People Swap Providers, Keep Numbers
TAMPA - The switch is on.
At 12:01 Monday morning, a revolution in the wireless telephone
industry eased into reality as wireless carriers began swapping
customers while allowing them to keep their phone numbers.
But while the changeover appeared to begin with
few mishaps, it is certain to alter forever how telecommunications
companies do business.
``It's about time,'' said Trey Stroud, 41, of
Tampa. ``Ever since I heard the announcement, I've been waiting.''
In 100 major urban centers across the United
States, including the Tampa Bay area, Monday was the first day
telephone users could exercise a new legal right. The Federal
Communications Commission now allows people to drop their wireless
or land-line service provider for another wireless carrier without
giving up their current phone number.
Other areas of the country will get the chance
Wireless carriers had fought the provision because
it will heat up competition - and potentially hurt earnings. Attracting
customers is more costly than keeping them.
Land-line companies - such as Baby Bells Verizon,
SBC, Qwest and BellSouth - generally were against the change because
they have been losing hundreds of thousands of customers each
year and did not want to compete with the mobile phone companies.
But consumer groups supported the change, agreeing
with the FCC that such competition would lead to better prices
and improved quality and customer service.
Some could hardly wait to change. Stroud, who
with his wife, Brenda, bought wireless services from Alltel and
T-Mobile, was waiting for Verizon Wireless employees to open the
door at 10464 N. Dale Mabry Highway at 8 a.m. Monday. He was one
of an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people nationwide expected
to change carriers Monday.
``On my cell phone, the number of times that
I would be out and not be able to receive a call or make a call
was just too much,'' said Stroud, who works for a television production
company. ``This is my office. I cannot afford to not be contacted.''
Stroud bought a package of 1,600 minutes for
$99.99 from Verizon Wireless for himself and his wife - about
$10 more than the other two plans combined.
Invisible to Stroud and others making the change
is the work of a communications technology company based in downtown
Tampa, TSI Telecommunication Services Inc. With its two out-of-state
partners, NeuStar and Telcordia, TSI will handle 90 percent of
the switches, said Ed Evans, TSI's chief executive.
Half of TSI's 800 employees will work around
the clock to ensure the automatic process of switching - or porting,
in industry terminology - goes smoothly as possible.
Wireless-to-wireless changes should take 2 1/2
hours. Land-line-to-wireless swaps will take a few days, Evans
``There really hasn't been anything major,''
Evans said Monday about problems on the switch's first day.
But the change will have a big impact on TSI's
bottom line. Helping telephone companies exchange a customer's
number is expected to boost TSI's annual net revenue of $230 million
by as much as $45 million, said Raymond L. Lawless, chief financial
The telecommunications industry spent more than
$1 billion developing, buying and testing the software and systems
to make the changes happen, Evans said.
Despite some companies charging 44 cents to $1.75
per month to recover that cost, the increased competition among
wireless and wire-line companies is expected to mean lower prices
and better service.
Art Hushen, 47, hopes so. He and his wife each
have a cell phone with Alltel and home phone with Verizon. Hushen
said he plans to change his home phone number from Verizon to
a wireless phone to get one bill.
``It's easier to manage it financially,'' said
Hushen, a Tampa police officer.
Others like the idea but don't see a need to
switch. Lisa Silvia said she's glad consumers now have the right
to change carriers but keep their numbers. But Silvia's sticking
with AT and T Wireless.
``I like the idea, in case I ever wanted to switch,''
she said. ``People keep your number, and if they have your number,
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