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A trade group representing local telephone companies sued on Friday to block a new rule that will allow customers to transfer their landline number to a cell phone. The United States Telecom Association said the rule, which takes effect today for people living in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, gives an unfair boost to the wireless industry. The trade group asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for an emergency motion stopping the rule. In an effort to spur competition and lower prices, the Federal Communications Commission approved rules allowing cellular customers to keep their number when they switch providers and for landline customers to keep their number if they switch to all-cellular service. Local phone companies are upset because a customer wishing to transfer a number from a cell phone to a landline phone can only do that if the exchange — the three digits following the area code — falls within the same geographic area, known as a “rate center,” in which the house or business is located. BellSouth Corp. has estimated that rules will allow local phone companies to go after only about an eighth of cell phone customers, while the wireless industry faces no similar restrictions. The rule for switching cell phone providers, which also takes effect Monday, would not be affected by the lawsuit. “We know that the future involves consumers having the ability to take their phone numbers with them across competing platforms, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it,” said the telecom association’s president, Walter B. McCormick Jr. “All we ask is that the FCC take the time to develop a platform-neutral approach that leaves the choice to consumers and gives all companies an equal shot at competing for their business.” FCC Chairman Michael Powell said this week that the agency would “defend any lawsuit effectively and vigorously.” The head of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the trade group representing wireless companies, urged the appeals court to reject the request. “Allowing this desperate attempt at delay will only confuse consumers and serve to limit competition,” said Steve Largent, the association’s president and a former Oklahoma Republican congressman. There is no rule for how quickly landlines must be switched to cell phones and vice versa. Companies say it likely will take about four days. Cell phone customers who want to switch wireless companies could have new service as quickly as 2 1/2 hours after the new carrier has contacted the old provider. The transfer will take longer if more than one line is involved. The number-switching rules take effect for people outside the 100 largest metropolitan areas on May 24, 2004. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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