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FCC Offers Portability Fixes But No Breaks

The Federal Communications Commission has suggested possible ways for telemarketers to avoid calls to cell phones, now that consumers can switch landline numbers to wireless without notice, but offered no reprieves from enforcing the ban on certain calls to cell phones.

In a letter to the Direct Marketing Association dated Nov. 24, K. Dane Snowden, chief of the FCC consumer and governmental affairs bureau, offered three possible sources of data about which landline telephone numbers had been switched to cell phones. But he made no mention that the FCC would suspend rules against placing telemarketing calls to cell phones when using automated dialers, as the DMA had requested in a Nov. 17 letter to the FCC.

On Nov. 24, the FCC implemented wireless local number portability, a program to increase competition in the telecommunications market. The program lets consumers switch between wireless carriers and even from a landline to a cell phone and still keep the same telephone number, so long as they stay in the same geographic area.

Telemarketing compliance providers, who help telemarketers suppress illegal calls, have said that though they are working on the problem, at present there is no way to find out who has made the landline-to-wireless switch. Previously, cell phone numbers were identifiable because carriers set aside area codes, exchanges and number blocks exclusively for their use.

In its letter, the DMA complained that NeuStar, the company responsible for maintaining the national database of number switches, known as the Number Portability Administration Center, had not responded to its requests for help in preventing illegal telemarketing calls to cell phones.

In his letter responding to the DMA, Snowden referenced three possible solutions that were submitted to the FCC by NeuStar on Nov. 21 that were previously unavailable to the DMA. They were:

· NeuStar could offer a Web site from which telemarketers could download wireless numbers for suppression. The file would be updated daily, and telemarketers would sign a user agreement and register with NeuStar to access the Web site.

· Telecom carriers could set up a process to provide telemarketers access to NPAC so long as they signed a user agreement, or else offer a suppression service that blocks calls for telemarketers without giving them direct access to NPAC.

· The FCC could allow any entity registered as an NPAC user — of which there are hundreds, according to the proposal — to disclose the number-switching data in NPAC to telemarketers for the limited purpose of suppressing calls to cell phones. This option also would not require telemarketers to sign a user agreement.

However, Snowden's letter did not stipulate when these possible solutions would become available to telemarketers or how. The letter said that the FCC declined to mandate a specific solution but expected the telemarketing industry “to select solutions that best fit telemarketers' needs.” The information telemarketers need is available “from any one of the numerous NPAC users,” Snowden wrote.

A DMA spokesman did not respond immediately to requests for comment yesterday.

Mobile Competency, a wireless industry research firm, estimated this week that fewer than 100,000 people have tried to switch wireless carriers as a result of wireless local number portability's inception.

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