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Tips for Switching Your Cell Phone Number

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Jennifer Shecter, 914-378-2402 or
Susan Herold, 202-462-6262

Thanksgiving Comes Early to Cell-Phone Customers with Promise
of Better Deals and Greater Choice
As Nov. 24 Deadline Approaches for Number Portability, Consumers Union
Recommends Customers Have Patience During Transition

(Washington D.C.) – With the Nov. 24 deadline allowing consumers to keep their phone numbers just around the corner, Americans are giving thanks for the opportunity to switch cellular companies or go strictly wireless and get better service at a better price. But Consumers Union, the independent non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, cautions that with millions of Americans expected to take advantage of this new benefit, customers should prepare to be patient during the transition period.
“November 24th marks a critical consumer victory for cell-phone customers who should now expect more for less,” says Jim Guest, president of Consumers Union. “But anyone immediately changing cellular companies or cutting the cord should anticipate that their switch may take a little longer, as the industry copes with the volume of customers trying to move carriers.”
Consumers Union offers the following tips to make the switching process as easy and economical as possible. Ratings of the major cellular carriers in six metropolitan areas are also available free from www.consumerreports.org.
Put a new date on your calendar. Nov. 24 may mark the beginning of what could be a new and happy cellular life, but consumers can minimize switching costs by checking the end-date on their contract. By waiting until their contract is over, they can avoid hefty early termination fees that can run $150 and up.
Don’t ditch before you switch. If you want to switch cellular companies or cut the cord and move your home phone number to your cell phone, do not cancel service with your existing telephone company. Your only call is to your new provider, who will take care of initiating the service change. Also ask your new carrier about covering the nominal fee your old carrier might charge for taking your phone number with you, and if they are offering any early-termination fee buyouts.
Know the 411 on 911 cellular emergency calling. If you are considering getting rid of your home phone in favor of cellular-only, keep in mind that 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.
Remember, you get to keep your phone number, not your phone. Whenever you switch carriers, you usually have to get a new phone because the carriers do not all use compatible technologies. Be sure to factor in the cost of buying a new phone and ask about any available phone deals.
Take your account into account when you sign up for new service. The cell-phone industry is recommending that you bring your most recent monthly bill when you sign up for service with a new company, because the carrier will need all your old account information to transfer numbers. The industry warns that if any information is incorrect on the application, such as writing your name as ‘William Smith’ when it is listed on your account as ‘Bill Smith,’ the number transfer could be delayed significantly.
Don’t hesitate to negotiate. If you truly like your current service provider, use the deadline to your advantage, and ask your carrier for a better deal.
“We’ve been hearing from consumers for months how anxious they are for November 24th to get here so they can enjoy the convenience of switching their service without the hassle of losing their phone number,” says Janee Briesemeister, the campaign director of EscapeCellHell.org. CU launched this campaign to increase consumers’ power to improve service and options in the wireless phone market.
“Now we want to hear from consumers just how easy or difficult the transition actually is, so we’re encouraging cell-phone customers to visit our dedicated Web site and tell us about their experiences. We’ll send any complaints to the Federal Communications Commission so it can gauge how the transition is going, and if companies are complying with the rule.”
In addition to these tips, Consumers Union also suggests three basic steps to getting the best cellular service:
Step 1. Pick a carrier. Consumer Reports ratings based on nearly 22,000 subscriber experiences showed Verizon consistently at the top in the six metropolitan areas surveyed. It’s also a good idea to ask for recommendations from your friends and neighbors that walk and work where you do to determine quality of service.
Step 2. Pick a plan. Carefully match when, where, and how much you intend to talk with a plan’s calling times and buckets of minutes. Consumers should also be aware of all the new deals the different cellular companies are offering to both keep their current customers and lure others away from their competitors. Be sure to read the fine print because terms vary across plans.
Step 3. Pick a phone. Choose a phone with analog back-up. Phones that can work in both digital and analog modes give you more opportunities to get through, especially important in an emergency.
Also Remember:
Take advantage of the trial period; Review Bills Carefully

The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumers Union is an independent, nonprofit testing and information-gathering organization, serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.