By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
If you're ditching your home phone to go wireless only, your local phone company has your number.
The problem, Sprint Nextel (S) and T-Mobile (DT) say, is the local phone giants don't want to give that number up.
In a recent petition to the Federal Communications Commission, the two cellphone carriers say local phone companies are making it difficult for consumers to transfer land-line numbers to wireless phones. And they say that's dissuading many people from using mobile phones exclusively.
About 10% of U.S. households have no land-line phone, a figure that's been rising 1 to 3 percentage points a year, Yankee Group says. Many are single, lower-income and young ? 67% of cord-cutters are under35, Yankee Group says.
Industry analysts had expected the practice to become more widespread after the FCC in 2003 forced phone companies to let customers transfer home numbers to their cellphones. The FCC also allowed consumers to take their numbers with them when they switch wireless carriers. But the cord-cutting contingent has grown slowly, largely because of the number-switching hassles, says Ovum analyst Roger Entner.
T-Mobile and Sprint say local phone companies make them provide dozens of arcane bits of information on complex forms. If anything is slightly awry, the form is rejected.
Number transfers typically take a week to 10 days but can drag on for weeks or, in rare cases, months, they say. About 30% of customers give up, and many keep their home phone service. Wireless carriers lose a customer or the extra calling revenue they would have gotten if the subscriber had dropped home service.
"Customers get frustrated, and we lose customers," says Sara Leibman, federal regulatory-affairs director for T-Mobile.
In contrast, numbers are generally transferred between cellphone providers within 2 or 3 hours, T-Mobile and Sprint say. They suggest the red tape is designed to help the local companies retain customers, and they want the FCC to streamline the process.
AT&T spokeswoman Claudia Jones says the local phone giant believes "consumers are entitled to change service providers in a reasonable time frame." Verizon and Qwest say they meet industry standards. Verizon's David Fish says the company has pared the information required on the forms.
FCC rules theoretically require transfers to be done in four days, but a form with errors can cause indefinite delays.
Entner says Verizon Wireless (VZ) and Cingular face similar holdups but haven't complained as they're mostly or wholly owned by Verizon and AT&T, respectively. Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Debra Lewis says the transfers are "not an issue." Cingular, whose name changes to AT&T today, referred questions to AT&T's Jones.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at