No Excuse to Delay Number Portability

My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, freely available version) focuses on the CRTC’s wireless number portability consultation.  I argue that while the industry regularly touts the Canadian wireless environment as a highly competitive, world-class market, the truth is that Canada trails badly on the number portability issue. 

The United States implemented both wireless and wireline portability in 2003, starting with its 100 largest cities and following soon after with the rest of the country. Similar moves are underway worldwide.  In Europe, Denmark is working on a joint wireline and wireless portability plan, while most other European Union nations established at least wireless portability several years ago.  The situation is much the same in Asia-Pacific with wireless portability implemented in many countries including Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore (Singapore put wireless portability into place eight years ago).

The establishment of both wireless and wireline portability in the Canadian market is clearly long overdue.  Unfortunately, the CWTA plan rejects the government’s call for expeditious implementation by relying on a variety of unnecessary delays.  For example, unlike the U.S. implementation, which adopted a phased-in approach that emphasized urban areas, the Canadian plan envisions number portability only after the entire Canadian market is ready.  Given that 80 percent of the Canadian population lives in urban areas, it seems likely that the vast majority of Canadians could have access to number portability in a matter of months with the appropriate regulatory emphasis on urban areas.

Moreover, the CWTA plan envisions roughly one year of technical upgrades, followed by an additional year of testing, marketing and promotion to prepare consumers for this new service. Canadian consumers have been waiting years for number portability — it is doubtful that they need to wait another eleven months after the infrastructure has been put in place to become fully informed.  Canadian wireless providers are major corporations that should be able to easily establish parallel tracks that implement technological upgrades and inform their customers of their new portability rights simultaneously.

Ottawa’s call for expeditious implementation of number portability should be welcomed.  It must now be matched by an aggressive CRTC approach, one that rejects the CWTA’s meandering and demands that Canadian carriers begin marketing number portability immediately with phased rollouts to commence early next year.  It is time for Canada’s wireless providers to put the needs of their consumers first by quickly implementing the long-awaited number portability


  1. Paul Andrews says:

    Agreed. The CWTA is just another special interest group for the Big-Three wireless providers (Telus, Bell and Rogers). The only reason they suggest this unacceptable 2-year waiting period is so that the Big-Three can sign-up or re-sign as many consumers and business to long term 3-year contracts before wireless portability is in place. Thus extending the inevitability of them losing customers beyond this 2-year phase in period.

    Long term contracts should be disallowed given that the companies only warranty the phones for 1-year and if anything goes wrong afterwards your on the hook to buy a new phone.

    From what I have seen on the CRTC site, related to this topic, there are a number of consumers that want wireless number portability(WNP) and wireline number portability (WLNP) now. The technology is there, and if the Big-Three think we are fooled they should think again. Most of the providers run on similar systems to the US and they were able to implement WNP after the FCC force them to without a 2-year waiting period. As well look at Fido and CityFido for an example of WNP and WLNP implemenations. Also most Telco’s seem to already have wireline-to-wireline portability implementations.

    We need WNP and WLNP now, and we need more competition in the wireless phone services. I think the CRTC should stop protecting the Big-Three and their monopolistic policies and allow US-based carriers to enter the marketplace, and to disallow the mergers of smaller carriers with the Big-Three.

    The consumer is the one getting screwed in the end… prices seem to keep going up when they should be going down, features that were once free are costing more each day, and service like billing-by-the-second have all but disappeared. I would really like to know what our $6.95/month system access fee is going towards, a few that once use to be less then $3.95/month when I got my phone and cheaper when my parents got theirs.

    Just another disgruntled Canadian Wireless Consumer.

  2. Don Moseley-Williams says:

    Tired of being ripped off by Bell
    Please keep writing these kinds of articles. Hundreds of thousands of Bell subsribers have been waiting for years to get away from Bell. The day it becomes law, I will be switching. I will also let all of my acquaintances know that they can also switch. We used to have per second billing that has been changed at least twice. Please keep the pressure on the government.

  3. Bang on!
    Michael Geist wrote: “Canadian wireless providers are major corporations that should be able to easily establish parallel tracks that implement technological upgrades and inform their customers of their new portability rights simultaneously.”

    you are absolutely bang on.

  4. the crtc has prohibited wnp since 1999. the countries mentioned above took at least 2 years to implement WNP

  5. Jeffrey Asher says:

    Michael Geist
    Columnist, The Ottawa Citizen

    Mr. Geist,

    Thank you for your column, “Portable phones with locked-in numbers” (Ott Citzn F6 13 Oct. 2005).

    When will Bell Telephone permit the cell’phone companies to use the home telephone number as the ONE number for a person on all his telephones?

    With one ‘phone number, my answering machine would answer all calls while I am indisposed (ahem). I can dial my home telephone number from a cellphone, so the connection exists. Do you remember a commercial promise of one telephone number per person, worldwide?

    Currently, a cell phone user has to inform everyone on his telephone list of his new cell phone number. That’s in addition to his e-mail addresses at home and at work and his fax numbers. Should I add his Blackberry address? That’s at least four calling numbers per person. Oy.

    Jeffrey Asher