Changing phone carriers? Keeping the same number? You have friends at the FCC

For several years now, consumers have been able to keep their telephone number when changing telephone service providers, making it easier to switch from AT&T’s iPhone to Verizon’s Droid phone and back again without having to change your number each time. You can even switch the same number between wireline, and wireless, and VoIP carriers. The problem has been that while intercarrier number “ports” take only a day between wireless carriers, they take up to four days when a wireline carrier is involved.

Last year, the FCC ordered all carriers to reduce the porting time to one business day regardless of the carrier, including VoIP carriers interconnected to the public switched network. A fracas then ensued over how much information the new carrier must provide before the old carrier has to give up a number. The FCC has now exercised the wisdom of Solomon, concluded that uniformity and standardization are the most important considerations, and decided on 14 data fields. That was more than the eight recommended by competitive carriers and endorsed by the North American Numbering Council (NANC), the FCC’s advisory arm on telephone numbering issues, but fewer than demanded by some incumbent wireline carriers.

The FCC warned carriers they are required to protect the privacy of both customer and carrier proprietary information, so data provided in number porting requests must not be used for other purposes. The FCC did not specify the information a current service provider can demand from a requesting provider to verify that the porting request is valid, but it warned against excessively stringent requirements.

Porting requested between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding local holidays, must be completed by midnight the same day. Requests received after 1 p.m. will be deemed made the next business day.

If your number is 703-GET-LOST, you never have to give it up, and you can switch carriers in only a day. Major carriers must have the one-day porting system in effect by August 2, 2010. “Small providers,” as defined by the FCC in 2009, have until February 2, 2011.