September 29, 2003 9:54 AM PDT

Sprint, Nextel make numbers portable

Sprint PCS and Nextel Communications said Monday they've agreed on a process to let each others' customers switch carriers later this year but keep their old cell phone numbers.

The so-called "service level agreement" covers any subscriber who swaps Nextel for Sprint PCS and vice versa, according to representatives of both carriers. Last week, cell phone provider Verizon Wireless and its parent company, Verizon Communications, began offering what's known as "number portability" between the two sets of subscribers.

Sprint PCS and Nextel will use electronic means rather than faxing or phone conversations to request telephone number transfers, according to a Nextel representative. They've also established what customer information to share and how to settle disputes over phone numbers should any arise, the representative added.

All U.S. carriers are preparing for Nov. 24, the date by which they must let subscribers keep their old phone numbers when switching to a rival, according to a Federal Communications Commission rule. Some studies suggest that a third of the nation's cell phone subscribers will change carriers as a result of the rule, with business professionals especially eager to have one phone number for all contacts.

The cost of switching providers
The cost of switching phone providers
and moving to a new number is
being exploited by businesses.

It's been a slow process, with the deadline looming and only two such sharing agreements in place. Both Sprint PCS and Nextel Communications said they've had no guidance from the FCC about how to "govern the exchange of information" needed to meet the mandate, according to a statement from both carriers. "These efforts...have proven extremely difficult given the lack of FCC guidance."

Both Sprint PCS and Nextel also claimed Monday that traditional landline telephone companies are slowing the process by "seeking to impose new conditions...not required under FCC rules," according to the statement.

"We haven't had as much luck with Verizon," among other carriers, a Nextel representative said. A Verizon Communications representative was not immediately available for comment.


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