FCC switches control of phone system, despite opposition

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously voted to switch control of a key technical system for phone numbers, over the concerns of outside groups.

“There are significant savings in this for American consumers,” agency Chairman Tom Wheeler said during Thursday’s meeting.

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The action will hand over control of the little-known system that allows people to keep hold of their phone number after they switch from one provider to another, such as from AT&T to Verizon.  

The current operator of that system, known as the Local Number Portability Administrator (LNPA), is Neustar, but it is being replaced with Telcordia, a subsidiary of Ericsson, the massive Swedish consumer electronics company.

“When you compare the numbers, the answer is clear,” said Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner on the five-member panel. While the Neustar contract cost about $460 million last year, he said, Telcordia would cost the government just about $143 million annually.

“That’s substantial savings for the American public,” noted Pai.

In recent months, some critics have raised concerns about the handover. The size of Telcordia's parent company could present a conflict of interest, some have worried.

At the same time, others have feared that the mere fact of a handover would lead to a lapse in the system’s operation, which could pose a problem to the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and other safety officials.

Least year, Neustar hired former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to oppose the plan, which it said had “serious” problems and was “insufficient in both scope and specificity.” 

Commissioners acknowledged those fears on Thursday, but said rigorous oversight procedures were in place to prevent any bias. 

Richard Jacowleff, the head of Telcordia, said that his firm “looks forward to working with the industry, regulators and the incumbent to ensure a smooth transition so that carriers and consumers can quickly benefit from the modernization of services, lower fees and our proven capabilities, including supporting number portability solutions in 19 countries.”

“For years, we have been an integral supplier of technology and services to the members of the number portability ecosystem and we are focused on a quick, smooth and efficient LNPA transition,” he added.