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Switching Easier Than Wireless Firms Say

October 08, 2003|Jube Shiver Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Letting go, it seems, isn't so hard after all.

For months, the wireless industry has insisted that it would take days or even weeks to transfer a customer's mobile phone number from one carrier to another.

The Federal Communications Commission's response: Think again -- it should take less than three hours.

Starting Nov. 24, millions of cell phone users are expected to take advantage of new federal rules allowing them to switch carriers without surrendering their phone number.

Although it takes just a few minutes for carriers to sign up new customers, transferring existing customers to a rival "is a complicated task, which requires system testing, employee training and updating software," said the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Assn.

On Tuesday, the FCC disagreed. The agency said it saw no technical reasons transfers couldn't be done within 2 1/2 hours.

The FCC did not impose a hard and fast standard. Instead, the agency said its 2 1/2-hour timeframe was for guidance. It added that it would "reexamine the issue if it received numerous consumer complaints."

Verizon Wireless, which has been relatively receptive to the new rules, said it welcomed the FCC's input.

"Now our competitors know what is expected of them," said a spokesman. "Allow your customers to take their numbers.... Don't slow or block them."

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