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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 14, 2004

Neighbor islands getting cell 'portability' service

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Would-be customers have been filing into the AT&T Wireless store in Kahului, Maui, so they can be among the first to take their old cell phone numbers with them when they switch to a new cell phone company.

Starting May 24, Neighbor Island customers will join those in Honolulu, who have been benefiting from FCC-mandated "local number portability" since November. The rule change last fall applied applied to only the top 100 urban areas.

"When O'ahu launched, we had a lot of customers ... ask when we could launch," said Stanette Kirchhof, manager of the AT&T Wireless store in Kahului. "We're getting ready because they want to switch from all different carriers."

Since November, more than 3 million customers have taken advantage of local number portability, according to the Federal Communications Commission. But the change also generated hundreds of complaints nationwide about long delays in getting numbers transferred.

Verizon Wireless, which was one of several companies to initially fight local number portability, is now working to smooth the process of switching carriers.

"I know it sounds like an easy thing but, from a technical standpoint, it's a very difficult process," said Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Georgia Taylor. "We want this to be as smooth a process for consumers as it possibly can. We want to make it easy and barrier-free for consumers."

Verizon Wireless is the country's largest wireless company, with 39 million customers. The company won't release numbers, but Taylor said it gained more customers from local number portability than it lost.

With the service expanding to the Neighbor Islands and other areas nationwide in May, "we're expecting to continue to benefit," Taylor said.

Verizon has some suggestions for those who want to change wireless companies:

• Establish an alternate contact number — at home, at work or with a friend or family member — in case the process takes longer than expected.

• Review your existing wireless contract for early termination fees and other requirements.

• Don't cancel your existing wireless service. To transfer a phone number, it must be active.

• Write down all information stored in your phone, in case the data won't transfer.

• Bring in your existing wireless contract and latest bill.

• Don't ask someone else to switch the account for you. Only the authorized account holder can do so.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.