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Court: Cell phone users can keep numbers despite change

Los Angeles Times

Mobile phone users soon will be able to take their numbers with them when they change carriers, following a federal court decision Friday that was applauded as a victory for millions of wireless customers.

Flatly rejecting arguments of the cellular industry, the Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that a Federal Communications Commission order to require so-called number portability by Nov. 24 is “permissible and reasonable.”

Cell phone users and consumer advocates hailed the decision as one that gives the public the ability to move more easily from a carrier with poor service or high rates to another cellular company.

A third of the nation’s 140 million cell phone customers change carriers every year, and 12 million to 15 million more would follow suit if they didn’t have to surrender their numbers, according to a study by the Yankee Group research firm.

“It means I can have my cell phone number for the rest of my life,” said Katey Coffing, 33, a UCLA anthropology lecturer who is launching a counseling service. “If I want a different carrier, I can change, and I don’t have to worry about what it’s going to cost me to change my Web site, my business cards or my stationery.

“This could save me a lot of money in the long run.”

But it’s likely to cost the cellular phone industry about $500 million to make the technical changes required for number portability. Worse for the carriers, though, is the estimated $2 billion to $3 billion annually they will incur in commissions, handset subsidies and service activation expenses, said Yankee Group researcher Roger Entner.

The FCC, which has delayed implementing its order twice in the past four years, and groups like the Consumer Federation of America, contend that the lack of number portability has been a barrier to competition.

“This is an industry that has now grown up. It’s time for them to meet their responsibilities,” said Mark Cooper, the consumer group’s research director.

Both the company and the trade group said they will not appeal the unanimous decision by the three-judge appellate panel. Verizon said in a release that it will “continue to explore our legislative options.”