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2.6 million in U.S. move phone numbers

Roughly 2.6 million people have kept the same phone number while switching wireless carriers or between a wireless phone and a home telephone since November, say FCC officials.
/ Source: Reuters

Roughly 2.6 million U.S. consumers have moved their telephone number between wireless carriers or between a wireless phone and a home telephone since November, Federal Communications Commission officials said Thursday.

In April alone, about 613,000 consumers switched wireless carriers without giving up their telephone number and another 49,000 moved their home telephone number to a wireless phone, the agency said.

Wireless providers were ordered to begin last November letting customers in the top 100 markets change carriers without giving up their coveted telephone number. The aim was to promote competition.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said he switched carriers for his work wireless phone as well as for his wife and son at a Circuit City outlet and the moves were done in an hour.

"I was shocked at how well it worked," Powell said. He declined to identify the carriers but said his name was not on the accounts so he did not receive favorable treatment.

Analysts had forecast last fall that millions of Americans would rush into wireless stores in search of a better service.

Scores of wireless phone customers have complained about dropped calls and poor coverage areas, but until last fall had been loath to switch services because they had given their telephone number to so many people.

Some carriers were afraid they would not be able to keep up with the pace of requests but FCC officials said the so-called churn rate had remained about the same.

But not all switches went smoothly.

AT&T Wireless Services Inc., the No. 3 U.S. wireless carrier that is being bought by Cingular Wireless, had scores of problems switching customers because of computer problems by a third-party vendor hired to handle moves.

At one point, tens of thousands of requests were lost, prompting thousands of complaints to the FCC. Since then, the problems have been resolved and complaints have ebbed.

"The number of complaints to the FCC continue to decline," said Steve Largent, president of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, the trade group that represents most major wireless companies.

On May 24, telephone carriers will have to begin offering customers in all markets across the United States the ability to move without losing their telephone number. However, some waivers have been granted that will delay that choice for many consumers.

The FCC on Thursday also proposed fining rural local telephone carrier CenturyTel Inc. $100,000 for failing to route calls to numbers that had been moved. The company had admitted some of its equipment was not ready to handle such traffic.

Cingular Wireless is a joint venture of SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp.