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Cell Phone Industry Plays Scrooge

Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Contact: Janee Briesemeister (512) 477-4431 ext. 117 or Chris Murray (202) 462-6262


Companies Lobby Congress to Deny Consumers the Right to Take
Cell Phone Numbers with Them Prior to Holiday Shopping Season

Industry Working to Postpone Nov. 24 Number Portability Deadline by Amending Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Bill

(Washington, D.C.) – In a blatant attempt to lock-in cell phone customers to long-term contracts during the busy holiday shopping season, the wireless industry this week is pushing for a Senate amendment to postpone a Nov. 24 deadline that wireless companies give customers their phone numbers when they switch providers.
The industry is trying to include an amendment in the Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill on the Senate floor to delay the Federal Communications Commission rule that requires wireless providers give customers by Nov. 24 their phone numbers when they switch companies. The rule is expected to be postponed at least 60 days -– well past the holiday season when cell phone companies try to sell customers long-term contracts.
“Consumers Union is very disappointed that cell-phone companies are still trying to hold consumers’ phone numbers hostage to stop them from switching carriers,” says Jim Guest president and CEO of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. “The marketplace has spoken; millions of consumers want the freedom to change companies and take their numbers with them. Cell phone companies, and the federal government, should no longer stand in their way.
“This move is particularly disingenuous of the companies who have publicly told their customers they are prepared for November 24th while they are privately negotiating eleventh-hour deals to stave off competition,” Guest added. “Our question is simple: What are they so afraid of? Competition?”
This would be the fourth major delay of the FCC number portability rule, which initially was to go into effect in 1999. Implementation has repeatedly been postponed due to heavy industry lobbying at the FCC and in Congress. Meanwhile, consumers who have demanded the right to take their number with them when switching companies have been left dangling in the wind by unfulfilled promises.
“In the past month more than 27,000 letters have been sent to Congress by consumers who want the freedom to keep their cell phone numbers,” said Janee Briesemeister, campaign director of EscapeCellHell.org, a CU campaign to increase consumers’ power to improve service and options in the wireless phone market. “Survey after survey shows that consumers are anxious for number portability. Yet, it appears that the special interests of the cell phone industry may outweigh the interests of millions of American consumers once again – just in time for the holiday shopping season.”