Liveblogging The Senate Commerce Committee Hearing On Number Portability

Join us today at 10 am Eastern as we liveblog the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on telephone number portability. These are the laws and procedures governing your ability to take a phone number started with one carrier to another. Historically, telephone companies have sought to limit customer’s portability rights.

The full committee will hear testimony from both industry representatives, and from a spunky former Eagle Scout representing the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Telcos have spent over $18 million in the past two years lobbying Congress; let’s see what their money has bought.

Keep hitting refresh for up-to-the-minute analysis and breaking off-the-cuff remarks!

10:00: Quoth C-SPAN: “Hearing on telephone number portability. Coverage being momentarily.” Exciting!
10:07: And we’re off! To watch the hearing, click this link, which will open in Real Player.
10:08: Chairman Inouye didn’t bother to show up for his own hearing. How odd. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) gets to run the show
10:09: Senator Stevens is making his opening remarks. There was a notable, worried stumble as he said “internet, internet services.”
10:10: Today will be all about expanding number portability not just between wireless and wireline services, but to all voice services, including VoIP. We now have dreams of porting our number to GrandCentral.

10:12: Ted Shrump, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Charter Communications is making his opening statement. Charter alone has dumped $580,000 into lobbying Congress.
10:14: Charter handles 13,000 porting transactions, 15% of which fall through. That’s 150 rejected transfers every single day!
10:15: Charter is worried that some telcos drop service when a port transfer fails; their solution is a 48 hour guarantee that service won’t be disconnected after a transfer request is made. How unusually friendly for Charter.
10:16: Chairman Inouye has appeared!
10:17: Jonathan Banks, Senior Vice President of the U.S. Telecom association is starting his spiel. Looks like he went with a gold tie on a yellow shirt. Ballsy.
10:18: 57 million ports have taken place, half between wireline carriers. Under 3% involve a wireline-wireless transfer.
10:19: What a shock, the telecom association thinks number portability should be handled by the industry, free of government interference.
10:20: Contradiction alert: “The complexity of the [porting] process has been overstated.” Banks then immediately starts talking about how small carriers are unable to automatically port numbers because for them, the process is too complex.
10:21: He just called Charter a liar. There is apparently no problem with canceled port requests. According to him, only 5% of transfers fall through.
10:22: Onto Chris Guttman-McCabe of the CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.)
10:23: CTIA is all about bashing the wireline carriers for dragging their feet on number transfers. Wireless-wireless transfers take hours, while wireline-wireless transfer take days.
10:25: They wouldn’t mind government regulation as much as the U.S. Telecom folks. They think the FCC has all the authority it needs, but hey, if Congress wants to legislate some more, they won’t complain.
10:27: We’ve reached our one consumer advocate, Tony Clark of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). Chairman Inouye: “That’s a long name!”
10:28: Though Clark is a former Eagle Scout, he is not wearing any badges. We are disappointed.
10:30: What a compromiser: Both CTIA and U.S. Telecom were right. 5% of requests from wireline-wireline transfers fail, but 30% of wireline-wireless ports fail. He finds these numbers suspicious. The solution? A uniform porting process!
10:32: Inouye, whose name is pronounced “In No Way,” clearly wants to be at the beach. Rather than read his testimony, he just submitted it into the record. Hey Chairman, efficiency has no place in the U.S. Senate.
10:33: Stevens is back in the driver’s seat. Words he has yet to say: truck, tubes. That is all.
10:34: Stevens wants to know where they money is going: who pays what costs when a request is made. For some reason, nobody is able to tell the Senator how much it costs to transfer a number.
10:38: Though Stevens is painfully entertaining to watch, his handlers have briefed him well. “Wireless is the new game in town.”
10:40: Stevens gave up on costs and now wants to know why it takes hours for a wireless-wireless transfer, but days for a wireline-wireless transfer. U.S. Telecom again blamed their “smaller members.” Most of their companies automate the process, but not the smaller guys, but it’s ok: “Faster is good, but getting it right is better.” Except you don’t get it right 30% of the time! That’s why you’re testifying to Congress.
10:44: A third Senator has arrived!
10:45: 20 kbps is not enough for us to figure out which Senator it is. We think it’s either Maria Cantwell or Amy Klobuchar.
10:46: Green tea does not mesh well with this hearing. We should have made black tea.
10:47: It’s Klobuchar, a freshman from Minnesota. Showing up to hearings is a great way to earn points with the Chairman.
10:48: Klobuchar only wants to know about Minnesota and how Charter’s services are affected by transfer difficulties. Charter seems very aware of the pains they cause their customers by fumbling transfers, especially when trying to install multiple services at once. Of the 15% of transfer requests that fail, most of those customers end up walking away from Charter entirely.
10:52: Inouye’s back with a question that isn’t quiet on the mark: “I was interested in the recent Wall Street Journal article about the mad rush to purchase iPhone… Is there any way we can resolve that?”
10:54: The panelists didn’t laugh at Inouye, but they did acknowledge that it was a problem.
10:56: OMG, Stevens is back and better than ever!
10:57: Stevens: “Let me be just the Devil’s Advocate here. Could I just decide I want to keep my wireline and I want to add wireless to it? Can I have two providers on the same number?”
Awkward pause: “Um, I don’t think that technology exists right now.”
Stevens: “If I had an IP phone, by definition, I’d have to leave the wire… wireline phone to use it?”
Answer: “I think that is the case with the technology today.”
Stevens: “Is it coming? Why shouldn’t I be able to say, just by a little switch on my phone at home that’s wired, I’m going off on the wireless now, I want to use this as I ride my motorcycle.”
Stevens: “I’m bad. Pardon me.”

11:00: Nobody can beat Senator Stevens. The hearing is over.

Listen to the clip

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