Sunday, September 18, 2005

Portability push for cellphones
Switch phone company, not phone numbers by 2007

By MARYANNA LEWYCKYJ, TORONTO SUN

Fran Bennett of Chestnut Park Real Estate is annoyed her old Telus phone number can't be transferred to her new Rogers phone. She's forced to use call-forwarding -- for now. (Greg Henkenhaf, Sun)

When real estate agent Fran Bennett decided to upgrade to a state-of-the-art cellphone, she faced a common dilemma.

The package she wanted was only available through Rogers, but if she got rid of her existing Telus phone, she'd have to give up her longtime cellphone number and possibly miss valuable calls.

To solve the problem, Bennett's old "mobile" phone is now permanently stuck at her home, its sole purpose to forward calls to her new phone.

"It annoys me," says Bennett. "My new phone is expensive to perate and it doesn't thrill me to be paying $30 to $40 a month for my old phone."

IN U.S. SINCE 2003

If Bennett lived in America, she wouldn't have this problem. Since 2003, U.S. consumers have been able to switch cellphone service without having to switch numbers.

This week, a trade association for the wireless industry unveiled plans to introduce number portability by 2007.

"The implementation timeline we are announcing today is aggressive given the complexities of introducing wireless number portability," said Peter Barnes, President and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Virgin Mobile CEO Richard Branson begs to differ.

"The 2007 timeframe is far too slow and it's completely unacceptable," said Branson yesterday. "We know the technology exists to implement portability quickly."

He points out that the federal government's February 2005 budget urged telecom regulators to move "expeditiously" to implement wireless portability.

Branson estimates that number portability could be rolled out in as little as six months, but should be available by the end of 2006 at the latest.

DRAGGING HEELS

"Clearly, Canada's mobile carriers are dragging their heels on this issue because it isn't in their best interest --they want to lock their customers in with one carrier," said Branson.

He's lobbying Paul Martin to put pressure on mobile carriers to speed up the process.

Telecom analyst Eamon Hoey of Hoey Associates Management Consultants brands Branson's campaign as self-serving.

"This is really about him making a big issue about number portability so he can get more customers to focus on his products," said Hoey. "It's histrionics."

However, Hoey agrees that Canada should move more quickly on implementing wireless number portability.

"The wireless industry in Canada is eight years behind the Europeans," said Hoey, who chaired a committee looking into wireless portability in 1997.

'MOLLY-CODDLED'

"It's an industry that's been molly-coddled by both the CRTC and Industry Canada."

Industry Canada spokesman Larry Shaw said his agency was surprised by the CWTA's 2007 implementation date.

"The government expected that it would be much quicker than the timelines they've laid out," said Shaw.

Frustrated consumers may have no idea how to fight back.

"Who do you lobby?" said Bennett. "Where do you find the time to lobby? Everyone is so busy, we hardly have time for our own families."

PHONE FURY

Here are some contacts to use for comments about cellphone portability:

- Virgin Mobile's campaign (mynumberismobile@virginmobile.ca)

- Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (info@crtc.gc.ca or 1-877-249-2782)

- Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (613-233-4888)

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