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Time Warner: Bells Violating Numbering Rules

10/13/2004 9:58 AM Eastern

Time Warner Inc. is accusing the Baby Bells of frustrating phone competition by refusing to transfer existing phone numbers when customers want to switch local phone carriers but retain high-speed-data service.

Time Warner Cable is rolling out digital-phone service in dozens of markets using voice-over-Internet-protocol technology.

The ability to retain an existing phone number is seen by some as an important consideration for consumers when they shop for a new provider.

In an Oct. 12 Federal Communications Commission filing, Time Warner did not refer to the Bells by name but as ILECs -- industry jargon for incumbent local-exchange carriers, which includes the Bells.

Time Warner said the problem is especially pronounced in situations where customers who already subscribe to an ILEC’s local-phone service and digital-subscriber-line service decide to sign up for a new local phone provider.

Time Warner told the FCC that the ILEC won’t transfer the phone number -- as normally required under the agency’s number-portability rules -- unless the consumer cancels both the phone and DSL service at the same time.

“We stated that, in our view, such refusals constitute a plain violation of applicable number-portability rules, which do not view internal policies as a permissible justification for a refusal to port,” Time Warner told FCC chairman Michael Powell’s top phone-competition adviser.

Time Warner’s overarching point was that forcing a customer to drop DSL reduces interest in finding another local-phone-service provider, especially one that has to assign the customer a new phone number. Phone-number retention is considered especially important for small businesses.

The Georgia Public Service Commission is a considering a rule that would require BellSouth Corp. to sell “naked DSL” in the state. BellSouth currently won’t sell DSL unless the customer subscribes to local-phone service.

“The overall policy is that we require you to have the voice service in order to have the DSL service,” BellSouth spokesman Kevin Curtin said.

BellSouth has asked the FCC to block states from imposing rules that would require the unbundling of DSL and local-phone service.

Time Warner and other cable companies offer voice, video and data services both in bundles and as stand-alone products. Many cable operators offer the bundles at discounts to the aggregate price of the individual products.

September