Washington Cell phone users who want to keep their numbers after switching wireless companies will have to wait until late next year for that option, regulators said Tuesday.
The Federal Communications Commission gave cell phone companies until Nov. 24, 2003, to offer customers the choice. The new date, one year later than the previous deadline, is the third extension granted by the FCC.
Congress passed legislation in 1996 to allow traditional telephone customers to keep local numbers when they change companies. The FCC said then that wireless customers should have the same option.
Most wireless companies oppose the idea, arguing it would cost billions of dollars and drain resources needed to improve and lower the cost of wireless services.
"The costs of this regulation outweigh the benefits for consumers," said Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Assn. He said the FCC extension is a good step, but the rule should be lifted.
Consumer groups disagree. They contend more people would change companies in search of lower prices and better service if they could keep their numbers.
About 137 million Americans subscribe to cell phone services, and about a third change carriers each year, according to industry figures. The wireless industry says those figures show people aren't prevented from changing companies by the inability to keep their numbers.
Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless, Sprint PCS and AT&T Wireless are among the major cell phone companies opposed to the portable number requirement. Others, such as Nextel Communications and Leap Wireless, support the measure as a way for them to gain customers.
The FCC decision Tuesday was prompted by a request from Verizon Wireless.
The four FCC commissioners rejected the idea of eliminating the rules. The delay gives the companies more time to resolve technical hurdles, the agency said.