Nationwide Number Portability

RotarydialIn November of last year the FCC asked the North American Numbering Council (NANC) to explore the issues associated with implementing nationwide number portability. That would mean that a customer could move to anywhere in the US and keep their telephone number with no regard to state boundaries, jurisdictional borders or distance from the original rate center. There is already number portability for cellphones and I’ve moved my own cellphone from Washington DC to the Virgin Islands and then to Florida. But there are a lot more restrictions on moving landline numbers.

The NANC returned a report to the FCC last week, and the following are some of their more interesting responses:

  • They don’t think that nationwide number portability would have any significant impact on the North America Numbering Plan or on the FCC’s process for forecasting the needs for future numbers (NRUF).
  • They did foresee changes in the way that taxes are assessed. For example, today there are a number of fees and taxes such as 911 fees or surcharges for expanded local calling scopes that telcos assign to customers based upon their phone number. The way of assessing such taxes would have to be changed.
  • The also foresaw that this would change the way that many companies assign jurisdiction to a call. For example, many long distance rating tables rely on the NPA-NXX of a number as the manner to assign jurisdiction, and a lot of the carriers providing wholesale long distance also use this number as they are determining rates.
  • There was some concern that existing 911 processes might have trouble identifying the addresses of ported numbers.
  • They identified that allowing nationwide number portability would cause changes to a large number of industry and carrier processes including the routing and rating databases (LERG and BIRRDS), to telephone switching software, to billing systems and to provisioning systems.
  • They also ask the question of how all of the potential changes might be affected by the upcoming conversion of the PSTN to all-IP. Their conclusion was that an all-IP network would require the same basic changes to databases and systems.
  • They also listed the FCC rules that would need to be changed in order to accommodate nationwide number portability. These were all changes that are allowed under current FCC jurisdiction.

Overall NANC made no specific recommendation but instead listed the various issues that the FCC should consider when looking at the issue.

I find it interesting that the cellular carriers have been able to easily accommodate nationwide mobile number portability but that this looks to be such a daunting task for telcos. But there are a lot fewer cellular carriers and their systems and processes are a lot newer than those used by telcos. I am sure that the large telcos look at this kind of change and just shudder since they understand that so many of their internal processes are driven by the telephone number of their customers.

But the telcos have already been allowing limited number portability for a number of years. A customer can usually move somewhere within their local calling scope and retain their number. For instance, you can port numbers between Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. But such porting does not change the jurisdiction of the calls, and therein lies the big rub.

I’m not sure what prompted the FCC to look at the issue. With the steady decline of landlines I wouldn’t think that there is a huge public cry for nationwide number portability. Interestingly, the VoIP providers have been assigning numbers outside of the jurisdictional areas for years. I can order a number from any major city in the country to use at my house in Florida. But what I still can’t do is take a local Florida number owned by a telco to somewhere else.

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