updated 4/29/2004 8:42:13 PM ET 2004-04-30T00:42:13

Wireless companies are doing a better job of switching customers who want to transfer their cell phone service to a different carrier, according to government figures released Thursday.

Since late November, cellular companies have been required to allow customers the option of keeping their phone numbers when they switch to a new carrier.

In the first month after the requirement took effect, the Federal Communications Commission received 2,400 complaints, most of them from consumers upset that the transfer was taking so long. In the past month, the number of complaints has fallen to 400.

"We knew there would be some hiccups when wireless local number portability took effect in the largest 100 markets last November, but the steady decrease in complaints each month clearly indicates the problems are being resolved," said K. Dane Snowden, head of the agency's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.

Customers in the 100 most populous metropolitan areas can transfer their number when they sign on with a new carrier. Consumers also can transfer a number from a traditional landline phone to a cell phone if the exchange -- the three digits that follow the area code -- is within the same geographic area.

The requirement will apply to the rest of the country on May 24. Snowden predicted little trouble when that happens. "We expect that the smaller markets will benefit from the lessons learned in the larger markets," he said.

The FCC and the industry set a goal of being able to transfer a single phone number within 2 1/2 hours once the new carrier contacts the old company. Many of the complaints received early on by the FCC singled out AT&T Wireless, but that number has decreased, too.

"We have, as has the whole industry, dramatically improved" since the requirement took effect, AT&T Wireless spokesman Mark Siegel said.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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