June 24, 2003 12:23 PM PDT

Verizon: No fee for number portability

Verizon Wireless Chief Executive Denny Strigl said Tuesday that unlike rivals, Verizon won't collect monthly or one-time fees from subscribers who want to keep their original telephone number after switching carriers.

Strigl also urged competitors to follow Verizon's lead, even though most already collect a monthly surcharge to pay for a federally required service called "local number portability" (LNP), which U.S. cell phone carriers must start offering by Nov. 24.

"Let's, as an industry, stop moaning and groaning about it," Strigl said at a conference Tuesday conducted by analyst firm The Yankee Group. "Our government has spoken, our customers tell us they want it. Let's clear the decks and get it done."

He also said Verizon Wireless won't refuse any customer's request to keep his or her telephone number, even if the customer is defecting to a different carrier. "It can only work if all service providers agree to implement LNP without artificial barriers," Strigl said.

Representatives for AT&T Wireless, Nextel Communications and Sprint PCS said their companies have no plans to stop collecting LNP fees. AT&T Wireless and Nextel Communications include LNP in a monthly surcharge each has established to meet a number of federal mandates. AT&T's surcharge is $1.75, while Nextel tacks on $1.55 a month. Sprint PCS will begin collecting an LNP fee in July. The representatives also said their companies had no immediate plans to follow Verizon Wireless' example on LNP.

"There's a crying need for consistency and predictability in the porting process," said Sprint PCS spokesman Dan Wilinsky, "but it's not the place of any one carrier to dictate industry ground rules for the process. That's for the FCC to decide."

The Federal Communications Commission has required LNP from all phone companies. Most traditional, landline phone companies, including Verizon Wireless parent company Verizon Communications, began complying back in 1999, charging their customers fees (about 35 cents per month) to offset implementation costs, a move the FCC allowed.

Cell phone service providers have managed to delay their deadline several times and also launched a court battle, led by Verizon Wireless. The carriers claimed the collective $1 billion they'd have to spend to comply was a catastrophically large and unfair expense. The lawsuit recently ended in the FCC's favor.

On Tuesday, Strigl said Verizon now believes the implementation costs work out to about 15 cents per customer per month, small enough for the carriers to try to absorb.

Parent company Verizon Communications had no comment on whether the move by Verizon Wireless would affect its landline LNP fee policy.

 

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