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FCC Warns Bells on Number Portability

The Federal Communications Commission Friday warned phone companies that failure to transfer telephone numbers promptly to cable companies would run afoul of agency rules and would be punished.

“We take this opportunity to remind carriers that the [law] requires, and we intend to enforce, nondiscriminatory number porting between [phone companies], including our previous conclusion ‘that carriers may not impose non-porting-related restrictions on the porting-out process,’” the commission said.

Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable -- both making major pushes into the voice-over-Internet-protocol service market -- complained that Verizon Communications won’t transfer a number until a customer drops both voice service and digital-subscriber-line service, even though the customer wants to switch to a new voice provider only.

Comcast argued that Verizon’s porting policy violated FCC rules. Verizon replied that the FCC had reviewed its bundling policy in connection with a long-distance entry application and “approved it.”

BellSouth Corp. has the same policy as Verizon: It won’t sell DSL untied to a local-phone subscription and it won't disconnect a local-phone number until the DSL account is closed.

Number portability is viewed as essential for new entrants because many consumers and small businesses won’t go with a rival carrier if they can’t retain their phone numbers. Receiving a new number means having to spend time and money to get the word out to family, friends and clients.

The FCC ruling was contained in an order in which it barred states from requiring BellSouth to provide DSL to consumers who subscribe to voice services offered by companies that lease facilities from BellSouth. The ruling affected about 8,000 BellSouth DSL subscribers, the company said Friday.

A BellSouth spokesman said he didn't know the fate of those customers whom states had forced the company to serve with DSL.

“This FCC order continues progress on clearing out regulatory underbrush that handicaps rolling out broadband. By affirming a single national policy in this area, this FCC action will increase the speed and efficiency of bringing to consumers new and innovative broadband-service offerings over wire-line networks,” BellSouth vice president of federal executive and regulatory affairs Jonathan Banks said.

The BellSouth vote -- one of the last involving FCC chairman Michael Powell -- was 3-2 and occurred March 17. However, on the number-portability matter, the FCC was unanimous.

In a joint statement, FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein said they “support the effort in this action to reinforce nondiscriminatory number porting, including between wire-line and cable carriers.”

The two disagreed with the main decision, saying that it effectively endorsed a trying arrangement in which BellSouth refused to furnish DSL to a consumer who won’t purchase voice service from the Atlanta-based Baby Bell.

Copps and Adelstein said BellSouth’s bundling policy would hurt consumers who wanted DSL but rely on cellular phones or VoIP for voice service.

“Regrettably, these broader issues go virtually unexamined,” Copps and Adelstein said.