By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
With the Nov. 24, 2003, deadline set for wireless carriers to offer wireless local number portability (LNP) to consumers, the Wireless Carrier Group (WCG) fired off an FCC filing contesting some aspects of its implementation, while Verizon Wireless filed a statement contesting the WCG's assertions.
The WCG, consisting of ALLTEL, AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Nextel and Sprint, filed a letter with the FCC in the beginning of August arguing that "unconditional porting" could impair the "complex structure of wireless carriers' service offerings to the ultimate detriment of consumers and carriers alike."
The WCG claimed that a carrier's ability to remind customers of any outstanding obligations before terminating a contract (a process the WCG argues allows for carriers to recover some of the upfront costs of customer acquisition) would be undermined by unconditional porting.
"Such a reminder allows the customer to make an informed decision as to whether he or she would like to proceed with terminating service despite those existing obligations," the WCG filing stated. "Because many customers choose to fulfill their obligations, either by completing the minimum term or paying an early termination fee, carriers in most instances are able to recover some of their up front investment in the customer without additional cost. This equilibrium would be upset under an unconditional porting regime in which the abandoned carrier has no opportunity to review with the departing customer any outstanding obligations and in fact must facilitate a breach of its own contract."
Verizon Wireless responded with its own FCC filing that called the WCG's position "anti-consumer and anti-competitive." Verizon argued that members of the WCG would simply insert provisions into its contracts to make it more difficult, and costly, for consumers to port their wireless number.
"Now, on the verge of achieving wireless LNP, the commission faces a direct challenge to it that, if not quickly and firmly rejected, will gut the effectiveness of the mandate," Verizon Wireless stated.
"[The] WCG argues that carriers may delay or block porting for their own business reasons, including holding up ports until customers pay off their accounts. ... They make it clear that they will slow or block a customer's desire to change carriers and keep the same numbers until the customer fully 'settles up' his account (presumably even if some charges are in dispute). This threatens LNP because, if the WCG is right, there will be no limit to what carriers can do to restrict or burden porting. They will amend their contracts to authorize the restrictions they want or simply impose the restrictions as a business practice."
Verizon also argued that WCG's request to treat the LNP rules as "guidance" would "subvert the legal rationale for the mandate because conditions on each customer's ability to port would be set by each carrier."
Tom Wheeler, president and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), released a statement in response to the back-and-forth.
"Unfortunately, important policy decisions that will determine how wireless number portability will affect consumers are becoming a competitive slug fest rather than a search for solutions," Wheeler said.
"Fundamental issues regarding the basic implementation of number portability remain unanswered by the FCC. Without answers about implementation details consumers will suffer."
Both camps agreed that a Sept. 1, 2003, deadline should be met to delineate the ground rules for LNP in advance of the Nov. 24 implementation deadline.
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