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FCC Considering a New System for Phone Number Portability

January 5, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

Did you ever hear the old saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?” Apparently, the FCC never has heard it. After its inception in 1998, Neustar has operated the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) and their current contract expires in June – just six months away. The NPAC is a common database that U.S. and Canadian carriers, including VoIP providers – more than 2,000 carriers in all, relying upon this one database center and by all accounts it has provided excellent service. Its databases are queried more than one million times a day and have an unheard of ‘up-time’ of 99.999 percent and all of this while having completed 11 major software upgrades.

Another way to determine if the system is working – are people using it, and using it successfully. It works so well that we take it for granted each day as we switch from wired to wireless service and take our number with us… subscribers are jumping from carrier to carrier each day, looking for better deals, all the while assuming that their number can come with them. So we ask the question again, why shut off a system that is working so well?

The FCC realized the magnitude of the implications of switching the database provider, so they were to start working on new bids and a new system back in 2010, promising that a new contract would be signed in 2013. Delays and bidding irregularities upset the process from the start – the only other bidder, Telcordia, a subsidiary of Ericsson, was allowed to bid after the original deadline and there are serious doubts whether Ericsson’s existing vendor relationship with North American carriers disqualifies them from participating at all as there is a requirement that the NPAC provider be a neutral party.

The decision to bring in a new provider was made by a stakeholder group made up of the largest carriers, trade associations and state regulators known as the North American Numbering Council (NANC) – they recommended the switch from Neustar to Telcordia. NANC’s recommendation was accidently posted on the FCC’s website, but once again, a snafu for the public and businesses to respond to the recommendations lead to little response. To further complicate the issue is that neither NANC nor the FCC will disclose how they arrived at their decision to switch providers, although insiders believe that Neustar is charging too much… although about half of their 2013 revenue ($450 million) came from fees approved by the FCC and paid by the telephone companies to use the system – the very ones asking for the change.

Adding even more doubt in this process is the fact that even the industry participants agree that there is no written analysis or key technical requirements for the new system. Therefore, we wonder how Telcordia can even submit an accurate bid when they really do not have the system requirements down in front of them. Maybe what Telcordia said is true – there should never have been just one provider for this critical system from the start.

We could be looking at another Healthcare.gov fiasco and if the FCC is seriously considering replacing this now fully functioning system in less than six months, with another that has yet to be designed or tested… they are asking for trouble and deserve anything that happens to them – but do we deserve what it will do to us?