Number portability coming at last

April 2007 deadline set

Thirteen years after initial talks were held, number portability is inching its way closer to implementation.

The Telecommunications Commissioner, Douglas Webb, has said New Zealand will finally get number portability for both landline and mobile phone numbers by April 1, 2007, although he hopes it will be earlier than that.

The number portability debate in New Zealand has lasted for more than a decade. In 1992, the Telecommunications Numbering Advisory Group (TNAG) was formed to allow the industry to work together to deliver number portability, but by 1996 it was hopelessly deadlocked with Clear Communications chief Andrew Makin pointing the finger at Telecom over its ownership claim on the numbering scheme.

“There is no evidence that the numbering plan was included in the intellectual property rights included in the sale, nor in any other part of it,” he said at the time. “In every other country the number plan is a natural resource, like the radio spectrum.”

In 1996, BellSouth country manager Larry Carter described number portability as “a challenge to all of us” and said it “will require some co-operation”. Clear surveyed more than 1,000 business and 1,000 residential subscribers and claimed that 61% responded, and of those, nearly half said that if there were choice, they would change providers.

The introduction of the Telecommunications Act in 2000 highlighted the need for urgency on number portability and the Commerce Commission determination, released last week, is the culmination of years of negotiation.

Telecom’s general manager for industry relations, Bruce Parkes, welcomes the Commission’s determination. “It looks pretty pragmatic and a good way forward.”

Parkes says the Commission will divide the cost of implementing number portability between industry players based on the portion of active phone numbers each provider has.

However, Parkes says introducing number portability before the April 2007 deadline would be “a challenge”.

Malcolm Alexander, chair of the Telecommunications Carriers Forum — the industry body that looks at the technical detail surrounding each Commission determination — says the Forum board will meet later this week to sign off on the technical specs for the Industry Portability Management System (IPMS) which will oversee portability in New Zealand.

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