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Wireless Number Portability is Coming After All

More than seven years after Congress passed the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, the federal courts have finally rebuffed efforts by the wireless industry to avoid implementing “local number portability.” In layman’s terrms, this means that consumers can now — or will soon be able to — switch wireless carriers and keep their telephone numbers. The basic argument by CTIA, the cellular industry trade association, was that the industry is too capital-constrained to implement LNP. According to Verizon Wireless, for instance

Requiring local number portability is bad public policy, and the resources required to fulfill this new mandate will unnecessarily be redirected from our core business activities: expanding network quality and reach, improving customer service, and initiating new services and products.

As far as I see it, though, it’s the industry’s own fault, since the price wars on airtime rates and continued subsidies on handsets have led to a cash flow problem of their own creation. More importantly, wireless is increasingly becoming a substitute for wireline POTS (plain old telephone service). So since wireline carriers have been required to provide LNP for years, there is no policy justification for exempting wireless carriers, especially since they want to compete for that same business. That’s what the FCC ruled, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed. Common sense prevails. An unusual, but highly satisfying, legal outcome.

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