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Congress to Delay LNP?

Washington – Lawmakers in the nation’s capital have been pushed by wireless industry lobbyists in the last few days to seek a 60-90 day delay of the Nov. 24 local number portability deadline, but efforts to delay LNP seem to be fizzling out in more than one place, Capitol Hill and industry sources say.

According to rumors on Capitol Hill over the last several days, lawmakers have been considering introducing an amendment that would provide a 60-90 day delay on LNP’s Nov. 24 deadline. It possibly would be attached to the Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary bill (S-1585). According to Senate sources, the bill could come up for debate on the Senate floor tomorrow, but also as late as next week.

The delay amendment would push the FCC’s Nov. 24 deadline past the holiday season. Carriers have complained that the November deadline would greatly complicate their sales of services during the crucial and lucrative Christmas season.

Several senators have been rumored to be contemplating introduction of the amendment, including Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. A spokesperson in Steven’s office declined comment on the amendment last night. Stevens was one of seven senators that wrote a letter on Monday to the FCC asking it to resolve wireline-to-wireless porting issues before proceeding with the LNP mandate.

In another blow to LNP relief efforts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a petition of mandamus filed by Alltel, AT&T Wireless and Cingular that had questioned the FCC’s jurisdiction on the issue. CTIA in the same court also has a petition for mandamus, which is still pending. CTIA’s petition focuses on a lack of guidance from the FCC on wireline-to-wireless porting issues, according to Mike Altschul, CTIA general counsel. Although CTIA will file comments today on its petition at the court, Altschul said the court’s ruling yesterday ‘made clear the FCC has the authority to rule’ on LNP issues.

Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, efforts to get a short LNP delay seem to be dying down. Senators are reluctant to back such legislation, as they’re approaching an election year. Giving yet another delay to carriers on the issue could put them at a disadvantage later on, say some observers.

Consumer’s Union lambasted the effort last night. ‘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,’ said Jim Guest, president and CEO of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, in a prepared statement. ‘Our question is simple: What are they so afraid of? Competition?’ he added.

Opponents of another LNP delay aren’t counting the effort dead, however. ‘Never count these guys out,’ said Brad Ramsay, general counsel at the National Association for Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Ramsay’s observation could be prescient. Over the last few days, rumor has it that some carriers have been quietly lobbying the Senate, saying there are technical issues that could thwart wiretaps on wireline phones that are switched over to wireless phones and vice versa. The issues, some industry insiders say, are a smokescreen because they have been resolved in wireline porting for some time.

Other carriers are solidifying their opposition to more delays. ‘The government has spoken. The FCC has spoken. Wireless customers have spoken. Let’s get on with it,’ said Jeffrey Nelson, Verizon Wireless spokesman.

Mark Rockwell is the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for Wireless Week, a property of Reed Business Information and a sister publication of TWICE.