Expectations Of Number Portability Are Starting To Have Effects

The FCC issues guidelines on implementing number portabiilty starting November 24:

The commission said companies should complete a phone-number switch between wireless carriers within 2 1/2 hours, a time already set as a goal by most major carriers. The FCC said the time period is not mandatory, but the commission would reconsider that if it received many consumer complaints about delays in switching numbers to new carriers.

The guidelines also say that people can switch numbers to another carrier even if current accounts are not settled. Wireless companies can’t refuse a switching request, but they can still enforce billing requirements such as termination fees when a customer ends a contract early.

And while this USA Today editorial engages in some hyperbole at the expense of the wireless carriers, it’s true that the carriers that adapt their business models and strategies to the new contestability are more likely to succeed:

Nov. 24 is supposed to be the day that cellphone users are freed from captivity by their wireless providers. Starting then, a new federal rule will let consumers keep the same number when they switch carriers. This one mandate could have a big impact, as customers who have been unwilling to endure the hassle of changing numbers are freed to shop around for better service.

But whether that impact ultimately helps or hurts an industry still reeling from excessive expansion in the 1990s depends as much on how carriers respond as how consumers react. So far, the telecommunications industry is in denial about the new world that is approaching.

Among the big carriers, only Verizon Communications is accepting the idea that ”number portability” will soon be a reality.

Instead of looking for new ways to attract business based on price or service, some companies are devising strategies aimed at keeping customers tied to them.

This approach is not only anti-consumer, it’s counterproductive. Any business model that forces dissatisfied customers to stay put only alienates them over time.

Hear that, RIAA? Hear that, electric utilities that think consumers don’t want choice?