The Federal Communications Commission voted Wednesday to force landline phone companies to act faster when their subscribers want to move their phone number to a rival service.
The commission will require companies to transfer, or "port," landline phone numbers within one business day, down from the current four-day requirement.
Wireless numbers are currently ported within one day — in many cases within hours — and the commission said landline companies should be just as fast.
Landline numbers can be transferred to competing landline services, such as those from cable or Internet calling companies, or to cellphones.
The shortened porting period should take effect in about a year.
The FCC told the North American Numbering Council, which coordinates number issues for the carriers, to develop new procedures within about three months. The carriers will then have nine months to comply. Smaller carriers will get an extra six months, for a total of about a year and a half.
Stifel Nicolaus analyst Blair Levin said the order is likely to benefit wireless carriers and cable companies, while imposing new costs on smaller, rural phone companies like Little Rock, Ark.-based Windstream and Monroe, La.-based CenturyTel Such companies have fewer customers over which to spread costs.
Phone industry association USTelecom said it supports the FCC's efforts to reduce porting times, but said that given the complexities of the transfer process, the group needs "to carefully review the order to determine its practicality and its effect on our members."
Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said the commission has been encouraging the industry for years to shorten its porting intervals, and that the time had come to force action.
Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell joined the two Democratic commissioners for a unanimous vote. The commission has two empty seats.
The FCC also voted to required Internet calling companies to notify their customers and the commission before shutting down. Some companies have abruptly departed from the business, most notably Sunrocket, which stranded 200,000 subscribers in 2007.