Boynton Beach couple billed by two phone providers for the same number

Earlier this year after seeing advertisements for Comcast's high-speed Internet service, Eugene and Pamela Sullivan of Boynton Beach looked into signing up for the service.

"We do a lot of home exchanges. In order to do that, we have to get on the Internet, but the communication was slow," said Eugene Sullivan, who owns a store in Delray Beach.

When Pamela Sullivan contacted Comcast, the company's representative persuaded her to bundle her phone and Internet services with Comcast. But the couple wanted to keep the AT&T; land line phone number they have had for 30 years. They said the Comcast representatives told them that would not be a problem.

The transfer of a phone number from one company to another is what's known as "porting." Under the Federal Communications Commission's local number portability rules, so long as you remain in the same geographic area, you can switch telephone service providers and keep your phone number.

That's when the trouble began for the Sullivans. The switch was scheduled for late March, but the Sullivans were receiving bills from both companies for phone service and from Comcast for Internet service.

"Nobody from Comcast called AT&T; to tell them. Nobody from AT&T; called Comcast to find out what was going on," Sullivan said. "AT&T; doesn't want to give up our number."

It seems that when it came to the Sullivan's phone number, the two telecommunications giants weren't communicating too well.

After spending hours on the phone with the companies trying to resolve the matter, the Sullivans were frustrated and wished they had never attempted the switch. Their daughter Mary Masella contacted The Palm Beach Post seeking help.

The Post contacted Comcast and AT&T; and within a day or two, the situation was resolved. The phone number was transferred to Comcast, which made a service call to the Sullivan's home.

Comcast spokesman Spero Canton said the porting had not gone through to the Comcast account. The billings were removed, and the process was started over, with Comcast once again requesting the number from AT&T.;

If you're thinking about porting your phone number to a different company, here's what the FCC advises:

• Do not terminate your service with your existing company before initiating service with the new company.

• Contact the new company, which will start the process of porting your number by contacting your current company. Be prepared to provide the new company with your 10-digit phone number, customer account number, and five-digit zip code. If you had created a passcode to protect your account, you may also need to provide that code.

• Be aware that when terminating service with a wireless company, you may be obligated to pay any early termination fees under your contract. Also, when terminating service with any company, you are usually required to pay any outstanding balance. Review your bill or contract to determine what fees or charges apply. Once you request service from the new company, however, your old company may not refuse to port your number, even if you owe money for an outstanding balance or termination fee.

• You may request service from a new company at any time.

• Companies may charge their customers fees to recover the costs that they incur in providing number portability. Fees may vary between companies, and some companies may not charge any fees.

• Companies may not refuse to port a number because a consumer has not paid for porting.

• When considering a switch, consumers should ask the new company whether it charges any number portability fees and whether those fees can be waived.

The FCC has changed its number porting rules to shorten the porting period for "simple" ports from the current four days to one business day. The new deadline applies to all simple ports, including "intermodal" ports such as wire line to wireless, wireless to wire line, wire line or wireless to VoIP or any other combination. Simple ports generally do not involve more than one line or more complex adjustments to telephone switching equipment.

If you port from a wire line phone to a wireless phone, there may be a period of "mixed service" – when you essentially have two telephones with the same number. Ask your new wireless company whether you will be able to continue using your current wire line number during the one-day transfer process. Also, if you port from a wire line phone to a wireless phone, your wire line long distance company will not move with you. Your long distance service will generally be provided by your new wireless company, but you should verify this with the new wireless company before changing service providers.

To file a

complaint with the FCC, call (888) 225-5322, or file online at fcc.gov.

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