NEW YORK – Nearly 8 million mobile phone users have switched carriers and kept their cell numbers since a new rule allowing that flexibility went into effect one year ago, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Almost 750,000 more people have moved either a home or office phone number to a cellphone, the FCC said Wednesday on the one-year anniversary of the agency’s “number portability” order.
The agency reported that by the end of October, 8.5 million people had taken advantage of the rule, which took effect in the nation’s 100 biggest markets on Nov. 24, 2003. That includes 7.8 million who switched from one cellphone company to another.
The FCC also revealed that the pace picked up significantly when the rules were extended nationally to include smaller and rural markets in late spring, jumping from roughly 700,000 customer switches in March, April and May to more than 1 million in June and 950,000 in July.
The figures suggest that millions of cellphone users may have been frustrated with their cellphone service but were hesitant to switch providers because they didn’t want to give up a phone number that was familiar to friends, business associates and family.
However, the tally is well short of many forecasts issued a year ago, some of which predicted that up to 30 million people might switch carriers in the first year.
None of the national carriers has disclosed specific numbers on customers gained or lost, but widespread reports throughout the industry have proclaimed Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA Inc. the biggest winners.
The biggest loser is believed to have been AT&T Wireless Services Inc., which was acquired in October by Cingular Wireless to form the nation’s biggest cellphone company with 47.25 million subscribers.
Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC of Britain, has seen its subscriber base jump from about 36 million just before the new rule took effect to more than 42 million at the end of September.