Phone Number Porting Explained

Consumers switching between wireless service providers can usually keep their phone numbers through a process called porting. Phone numbers can usually be ported between wireless carriers in under 24 hours, and the process often takes under an hour.

Porting steps

  1. Start opening a new line with your new carrier before canceling service with your old provider. If you cancel service before opening a new line, you’ll probably lose your number.
  2. Let the new carrier know that you’d like to keep your old number. If you’re purchasing service online, you’ll usually have to select whether you’d like to get a new number or keep an old number at some point during the signup process.
  3. Give the new carrier information to facilitate the porting. This may include information like your old account number, a password, a PIN code, and/or the billing address used with the old plan. In some cases, consumers may be asked for information they do not have on hand. For example, you might be asked for a PIN code when porting away from a carrier that you’ve never set up a PIN code with. If you find yourself in this situation, reach out to your old carrier and request the information you need. In many cases, carriers will give all customers the same default values for some information (e.g., PIN codes might be set to a default of “0000” or “1234” for all customers).

Porting a landline number to a wireless carrier is often possible, but the process may take longer.

Porting regulations

The FCC has regulations in place to make porting both possible and easy for most consumers. The following excerpt comes from the FCC’s website:[1]

Wireless local number portability (WLNP) has been available in the U.S. since November 2003 (in the top 100 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs)) and May 2004 (in the rest of the country). A consumer wishing to port a number should contact the prospective new carrier, who will start the process of porting by contacting the consumer’s current carrier. Commission rules require carriers to port a number when they receive a valid request, and carriers may not refuse to port. However, consumers are still legally bound by their existing service agreements and should be familiar with any fees they may incur for canceling an existing contract before deciding to port a number to a new carrier.

The FCC permits carriers to charge “reasonable” fees for porting. However, carriers appear to rarely charge porting fees in practice.[2]

Footnotes

  1. The excerpt comes was taken from the FCC’s website on 12/23/2019.
  2. While I don’t think carriers often charge porting fees, line activation fees that apply to both customers that receive new numbers and customers that port old numbers are common. While the FCC allows carriers to charge porting fees, the FCC’s policies also seem to prohibit carriers from refusing to port numbers for customers that haven’t paid fees. I’m unsure how the policies play out in practice. Stubborn consumers might be able to argue their way out of porting fees. The following excerpt came from the FCC’s website on 12/23/2019:
    “Companies may assess fees to recover the costs that they incur in providing number portability…Companies may not refuse to port a number because a consumer has not paid for porting.”