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FCC Tightens Consumer Protections For Number Portability, VoIP

Currently carriers have four business days to transfer consumers' existing phone numbers to new providers.

A hobbled Federal Communications Commission approved two consumer-oriented measures at its meeting Wednesday.

The three sitting commissioners voted to require carriers to transfer consumers' telephone numbers utilizing number-portability provisions in one business day and also moved to strengthen protections for VoIP consumers.

By imposing a one-day transfer requirement on carriers, the FCC sought to facilitate the move by consumers to new telecommunications carriers. Currently carriers have four business days to transfer consumers' existing phone numbers to new providers.

Noting that Congress' 1996 Telecommunications Act imposed the number-portability measure, acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said: "it appears to be the unanimous judgment of this commission that a one-business-day porting interval for simple wireline-to-wireline and intermodal ports best serves consumers and is nevertheless altogether doable in the time frame we provide today."

The FCC said all providers -- with the exception of small carriers -- will be required to implement the new one-day number-porting interval within nine months, after certain requirements are addressed.

In another action Wednesday, the FCC commissioners required VoIP providers to expand protection for consumers using VoIP over the public telephone network, rather than solely over the Internet. The providers henceforth must notify VoIP customers before their service will be discontinued, reduced, or impaired. "Interconnected VoIP providers can no longer close shop without notice, leaving customers unexpectedly without phone service or recourse," the FCC said in a release.

In a statement, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said: "Today's action is not merely about consumers' convenience. It is a serious public safety matter. If a subscriber does not receive sufficient warning that their interconnected VoIP provider will cut off service, that consumer could well be left without telephone -- and 911 -- service. The commission should have given consumers these protections years ago, as we have seen interconnected VoIP service providers go out of business and strand consumers."

The FCC, which has been awaiting a new chairman and at least two other appointees, has just three commissioners for the five-position agency. More than two months ago, President Obama announced that Julius Genachowski, a former FCC attorney and industry executive, was his choice for the chairmanship of the FCC. However, his nomination has yet to be reviewed by the U.S. Senate.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on government IT priorities. Download the report here (registration required).

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