November 24, 2003, consumers celebrated their
choice to be able to take their current cell
phone number with them when switching cell phone
providers, and to transfer their home phone
number to their cell phone (in limited circumstances)
– if they live in the top 100 metropolitan areas.
For those consumers living outside the top 100
metro areas, phone companies must implement
number transfers by May 24, 2004. To see a list
of the top 100 metropolitan areas, go to http://wireless.fcc.gov/wlnp/documents/top100.pdf.
phone company reports that, from 2000 to 2002,
customers disconnected 5 million of their 192
million phone lines. During that same time,
cellular companies gained 31 million subscribers
to end with 140 million users. These numbers
make land line phone companies nervous about
the new phone number portability.
In a perfect world, these changes
should increase competition between providers
and result in better service and more competitive
calling plans for those who decide to stay land-locked.
But, as with anything, be sure to read the fine
print before you jump ship.
According to Consumers Union
(www.consumersunion.org), an independent, nonprofit
testing and information organization serving
only consumers, and the publisher of Consumer
Reports, there are at least seven things you
Most cell plans are priced per minute, and get
pricey when you exceed your limit. However,
local landline (home wireline) service is often
a flat rate in which you pay the same fee no
matter how much you use the phone. Many cell
phone plans charge for incoming calls, but landlines
do not. Take care to consider how much you will
use the phone and whether the cell plan includes
a sufficient number of minutes for your outgoing
and incoming calls.
• Extras and Long Distance:
Home wireline service typically charge extra
for such things as caller ID, voice mail and,
of course, long distance. Cell phone plans often
include the extras and long distance in their
service. If you switch from a home wireline
to wireless, your long distance service will
not move with you, so make sure to verify your
long distance options when changing to a cell
• Safety: If you dial 911 from
your home phone, the emergency operators can
immediately pinpoint your location. If you dial
911 from your cell phone at home or on the road,
most emergency operators cannot readily locate
you, and unfortunately, there is no guarantee
that your call will get through.
• Service: Consumers frequently
complain about wireless service quality, such
as dead zones and dropped calls. Overloaded
networks and "dead spots" can affect
your ability to use a wireless phone in ways
that are not a consideration for landlines.
• Fees: Companies are allowed
to charge a fee to departing customers for their
cost of switching over phone numbers, but cannot
charge in excess of these “porting” costs. Some
companies may pay your current phone provider’s
cost in order to get your business. Consumers
should remember that if they change service
before their contract ends, they likely will
pay a termination fee. They should also keep
in mind that while they get to keep their cell
phone number, they might not be able to keep
their cell phone, so consider the cost of a
new phone before switching.
• Initiating a Switch: If you
want to change cell phone carriers, or move
your home wireline to a cell phone, contact
the new carrier, who will start the process.
Do not terminate service with your existing
carrier before initiating a switch. Also, know
that you are obligated to pay any early termination
fees that may apply with your existing cell
• Switching Time: It should
only take a few hours to move your current cell
phone number to a new cell phone provider (wireless-to-wireless
transfer). It is expected to take several business
days to complete a home wireline to cell phone
transfer (wireline to wireless). Make sure to
ask the cell phone company you are moving to
if you will still be able to use your home wireline
during the transfer process.
Phone companies continue to try to block the
number portability that goes into effect November
24. To follow changes in the law, go to the
Consumers Union Web site, www.escapecellhell.org.
There you will find links to government pages,
frequently asked questions, and resources to
help you shop for a cell phone provider. To
access a free shopping guide, go to http://www.consumersunion.org/campaigns//learn_more/000377indiv.html.