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Subject: [IP] more on Court Hears Fight Over Numbers Used for Cellphones

  • From: Dave Farber <>
  • To: ip <>
  • Date: Sun, 20 Apr 2003 04:44:27 -0400

-----Original Message-----
From: Bob Frankston []
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 11:22
To:; 'ip'

Once again, I'm making very simple statements that come across as outrageous
because of the bigger lie that there is a
telecommunications industry.

Simply think about a low speed bit stream going over the IP infrastructure.
Now compare it with the cost of a dedicated wire for each call and a lot of
electromechanical gear and equipment designed to limit
the quality. Once you are used to wide pipes on the Internet the very idea
of installed and using a separate wire for each
connection is too silly to even think about. Yet the reverse, replacing all
of the wires with a few fibers of glass and the
electro-mechanical gear with a few nanometers of semiconductor seems just as
outrageous because factors of trillion to one cost
savings are just not part of people's normal experience, especially those
charged with the serious responsibility of setting policy.

After all, how could one seriously challenge the grandeur of a regional toll
switch with floor and floors of relays chattering away
and translation machines running quickly through decks of metal punched
cards? The reality is that we have indeed replaced
essentially all of the mechanical gear with digital emulations via SS7. But
the new technology is invisible and thus doesn't
displace our older images of relays chattering away. Think about the movies
that showed whirling tape drives long after they stopped
being relevant to computing because they were more "visual"


The term "number portability" is nothing but scam and a lie.

The idea that a phone company (or, still "the phone company") gets a call to
a number and then must translate it a fraud perpetrated
on those stuck with very bad metaphors.

The number is FIRST translated and so they call can be directed. Rather than
calling this "number portability" we should recognize
that the bug is that the FCC bequeaths the numbers on the carriers who then
lease them to users.

Instead we should view the numbers as public assets being provided directly
to the users or, perhaps, loaned to the carriers as
custodians for the users. Even better if we go to an ownership model and
people own the numbers for as long as they want. We can
lease the numbers since there are, in the NANP (North American Numbering
Plan) only 10 digits available which means that we 10^10 or
ten billion numbers available we can't afford to squander such a limited
supply (I now, there are less available thanks to
inefficiencies such as reserving aaa-Klondike-5-nnnn). A few pennies per
month can raise a lot of money to cover any administrative
expenses and cost of maintain the history museum for all the old switching
gear and the EPA superfund for the lead-acid batteries
littering the landscape.

The hording of numbers and using them to keep customers hostage is a serious
abuse of public trust. Claiming that number portability
is difficult when it takes effort to assure that the existing translation
tables are not used for the purpose (and, perhaps,
engineered for the purpose of frustrating
portability) is fraud even if it is done by carefully avoiding any
implementation that might accidentally provide full portability.
But there is clear intent to make the process much more difficult than it
need be.

In fact, 500 numbers were simply a form of portability that, unlike 800
numbers, had the caller pay. The bug was that rather than
being local everywhere, it is "long distance" everywhere. But since there
isn't any distance sensitivity to the cost (especially for
the cellular system), we are talking about systems that have no other
purpose than the creation and maintenance of billable
entities. Accounting models can be used to create rationales for these
charges but they are just models. It helps to maintain an
efficient PSTN fabric in order to take advantage of the popular image of
phone calls going through wires through switches in order
to give the abstract models the patina of physicality.

I can't help going on to one more thought -- the 800/500 asymmetry goes away
if we have the caller taking responsibility for the
local portion. Right now pay phones have a special charge for 800 number
usage in an attempt to patch a patch upon a patch upon a
patch. Why not just have an explicit and transparent charge for use of the
instrument and not tie it to the accidental properties of
the fictional price of the call itself.

Once again, transparency is a threat -- after all, the clothes for this
emperor have to be opaque otherwise we'd realize there is no

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of
Dave Farber
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 06:09
To: ip

Court Hears Fight Over Numbers Used for Cellphones

April 16, 2003


The wireless telephone industry appealed to a federal court in Washington
yesterday to block a government effort to allow consumers
to keep their cellphone numbers when they switch mobile phone carriers.

The Federal Communications Commission, which has long sought to encourage
competition by letting cellphone users move the same
number from one wireless network to another, is seeking to bring about
so-called portability of numbers by this November. But ever
since it adopted the rule in 1996, the agency has delayed carrying it out
because of objections from the industry, which argues that
it will have to spend an extra $1 billion and that it is unnecessary because
the mobile phone business is already highly

The issue is a hot button for many cellphone users and consumer groups, who
say that Americans should have the same ability to keep
their mobile phone numbers as they do to retain their home phone numbers
when they move locally.
They also point to several other countries, including Britain, Spain and
Australia, that have adopted portability without doing
serious damage to the industry.

"People are staying with a carrier because they've printed up a lot of
business cards or given their number out to a lot of people,"
said Linda Sherry, editorial director of Consumer Action, a nonprofit
consumer advocacy group.

Even without portability, the wireless phone companies already lose plenty
of customers to other carriers regularly. The Yankee
Group, a market research firm, has projected that 10 million to 15 million
customers could decide to switch carriers within a few
months if the rule were enforced.

"This is good for consumers," but bad for wireless carriers, said Roger
Entner, an industry analyst with the Yankee Group, a
research firm.

Companies involved in the case said they expected a decision in 45 to 60
days from the three-judge panel of the United States Court
of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The wireless industry points to falling prices and extensive consumer choice
as evidence that the rule is not needed.

"It's time to look at this industry like any other competitive industry -
not as an outgrowth of the old land-line model," said John
Scott, deputy general counsel for Verizon Wireless.

In court, the argument turned on several fine legal points, including the
industry's claim that the F.C.C. was exceeding its mandate
by trying to impose the rule.

"The FCC lacks the statutory authority to implement number portability,"
said Andrew G. McBride, who argued on behalf of Verizon
Wireless and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. "The
order under review is arbitrary and capricious under any
standard."While some carriers might have favored such a rule in years past,
Mr. McBride said allowing people to keep their cellphone
numbers was no longer "necessary" to preserve competition.

"The wireless industry is the most competitive telecommunications market on
the planet," Mr. McBride said.
"And what consumers say they value most in his market is price and

The expenses associated with switching numbers, he said, will make it harder
for mobile phone carriers to provide quality cellphone
coverage and cheaper phones.

"It's very speculative to say this even offers consumer benefits," Mr.
McBride added.

John E. Ingle, who argued on behalf of the F.C.C., said the agency was well
within its rights to act because the proper standard for
rule-making was simply "useful or appropriate for achievement of a
particular end."

By their questions, the judges suggested that they were skeptical about the
industry's argument that the F.C.C. had gone beyond its
authority. Some said that Mr. McBride, the lawyer for the industry, had
proposed such a stringent test that few existing regulations
would survive if they were to be held to the same standard.

"I can't think of anything that meets your test," Judge Harry Edwards said.

Today's hearing was the latest effort of the industry to delay the
requirement. Last July, the F.C.C. agreed to delay putting the
rule into effect for another year, setting November 2003 as the deadline. It
was the third time the agency had delayed action.

Mr. Entner, from the Yankee Group, said that the change would be costly for
the industry, and not just because of the $50 million he
expects it would cost each carrier to upgrade their system to enable
portability. "That amount is pocket change," he said.

Mr. Entner said that the churn rate in the industry could leap from about
2.8 percent per month today to about 6 percent. The bigger
cost, Mr. Entner said, will be the continuing expense of maintaining the
wireless networks and attracting new customers as others

That expense, he said, entails logistics, paperwork, and subsidizing the
sale of new phones, among other things. And while the cost
of wireless service has already come down considerably, some fear that
making it more easy to switch carriers would only put further
pressure on service prices.

That could squeeze some of the weaker wireless companies in the same way
that many airlines have been pushed into bankruptcy by the
intense competition to lure passengers from other air carriers.

"What they're really afraid of," Mr. Entner said of the wireless companies,
"is they will be paying to make it easier for their own
customers to leave.";

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