If you’ve ever attempted to port a landline phone number from one location to another, you know how difficult of a process it can be. Carriers give as little effort as the rules of the industry require of them to port away numbers. Their reluctance comes from the fact that they must spend money and time on a complicated process that loses them a billable phone number. Even if your carrier accomplished this task in a timely fashion, carriers across the country vary in how well they handle porting. But why is porting so complicated? How did the process devolve into such a laborious, tedious task? Why is every carrier different in how they port?
Local Number Porting: The Wild West of Telecom
Carriers play by two distinct sets of rules. The first set of rules were laid out in the 1996 Telecom Act, which regulated number porting in Toll Free and the rules revolving around number ownership. The second set of rules are like the Pirate Code—they are a set of guidelines that companies in the industry follow, lest they wish to tarnish their reputations among the others. Local number porting falls primarily under the latter, and much of the processes we see today between major carriers is the product of nearly two decades of “scout’s honor” practices between companies with very little regulatory oversight.
When it comes to the porting of local numbers, carriers develop unique porting relationships among each other, and each carrier has its own set of rules it requires of others in order to port out. This means that no two carriers follow the exact same protocols. What this has created is a nightmarish scenario in which number porting between two carriers can become confused, delayed, or rejected for a number of reasons.
More recently, the problems in local number porting have been exacerbated by the fact that VoIP providers, like Mix Networks, have not had direct numbering access. In order to port, a VoIP provider must develop a relationship with one of the major carriers in the industry and rely on that carrier to port for them.
For the consumer, this is a disaster.
10 Years in the Making, The FCC Steps In.
A little over 10 years ago, a few prominent members of the telecom community recognized that the future of telecom lay with VoIP. They began the process of pressuring the FCC to allow VoIP providers direct numbering access to alleviate the competitive burden placed on VoIP providers who relied on their competitors for porting. This gave way to a recent report and order that declares VoIP providers have the ability to file with an assortment of agencies to be able to do their own porting.
While the move was heralded by some as a tremendous step in the right direction, those who made the first leap into the world of the legacy carriers realized that the FCC’s order meant little in an industry where the rules are actually just guidelines, with little to no regulatory oversight. The barriers to entry, while not insurmountable, also proved to be a challenge as the requirements for certification require a provider to license and file with numerous agencies, a process that is not explicitly outlined by any one agency. Essentially, there is not a ‘how-to’ on filing for direct numbering access.
Mix Networks is proud to say that we are among the first VoIP providers to set direct numbering access. With the help of our partners ATL Communications and Inteliquent, we are now able to do most of our own porting, which has significantly decreased our reliance on legacy carriers and translated to better service and customer satisfaction.
What the Future Holds
Direct numbering access for VoIP providers was a good first step to force the industry to make some changes in regards to number porting. While the issues facing number porting have not vanished overnight, the added competition for numbers from VoIP providers has prompted some legacy carriers to revisit their processes. There are still many hurdles to overcome before number porting becomes consistent, and until then consumers will need to be patient about how fast their local numbers are ported. But they may be reassured that renewed competition will inevitably force changes for the best.