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What is Local Number Portability?

J. Beam
J. Beam

Local number portability refers to a policy mandated by the United States Congress that allows consumers to keep their existing phone number at the same location when switching telephone service providers. This policy was originally initiated as a way to remove unnecessary obstacles for service provider companies who wished to enter the market after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed. As a way to encourage and promote competition between local area service providers, local number portability allows customers to keep their existing phone number if they switch to a new provider, thus eliminating the inconvenience of changing numbers.

Telephone service providers have responded to the portability mandate by complying with Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements. With number portability, customers can keep their existing phone number even if they switch to a different phone service provider. The original service provider simply reassigns the phone number to the new carrier, so long as the service area code remains the same.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

The ability to competitively shop for phone service providers without fearing a number change has been beneficial to many business and residential customers. Without local number portability, consumers may hesitate or even be deterred from switching to a competitor because of the associated number change. Because businesses have established phone numbers, which they typically print on business cards, and individuals have given their number to friends, family, school, work and so forth, changing phone numbers can be inconvenient. Local number portability eliminates that inconvenience.

Local number portability is not without a down side. Though the pros far outweigh the cons to most, the end user can and typically does pay a small fee on monthly bills to help competitors offset their compliance costs. On the upside, fees such as these and others typically remain small and competitive as service providers vie for the consumer’s business.

Local number portability also applies to wireless phone service, so long as the area code remains the same. Wireless number portability has greatly increased the competition between wireless phone service providers, which should prove to be a benefit to consumers in the long run. If you are interested in changing local phone service for your fixed home line or wireless phone service providers for your cell phone and are curious whether your current number is portable, call your current provider. They will be able to inform you if you qualify for number portability and as a bonus they may offer you a special deal if they fear you might be switching providers.

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