Cellular telephone companies have done their best to delay a 1996 congressional order that they let customers in the nation's 100 largest markets keep their cell phone numbers if they switch providers. One-third of cell phone customers say they would jump ship immediately if not for the hassle of getting a new phone number, so the companies have employed every lawyerly trick to delay complying with successive Federal Communications Commission orders to enforce portability. Now, finally, the dam has cracked if not broken.
Verizon Wireless last week announced it would start to make portable numbers available in November, but Cingular Wireless, AT&T Wireless and other competitors continue to pound away at the same tired excuses -- the technology is too costly and consumers really don't want portability. Consumers don't want portability? Sure, just as the Colonial revolutionaries didn't want to get rid of King George III. At least Verizon's decision is backing other companies into an uncomfortable corner.
Verizon, which controls almost 25% of the national market, will reap an advertising bonanza as it trumpets its compliance with the FCC's latest deadline, Nov. 24. It won't hurt that Verizon already has the highest customer satisfaction ratings and is thus likely to lose fewer customers than other providers.