Phone company ads proclaimed "Bring your number up to speed" and "Your number on America's best wireless network" as new rules went into effect Monday allowing consumers within the top 100 markets to switch cell phone service without switching their phone numbers.
The long-awaited rule change, which some called "wireless emancipation," set off a scramble as customers shopped for the best deals and started making the switch without having to change their phone number every time they change carriers.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, Monday's implementation of wireless local number portability is for the top 100 markets, which only include St. Louis and Kansas City in Missouri.
Wireless local number portability for the rest of the country will be implemented on May 24, 2004. The complete top 100 markets list is online at wireless.fcc.gov/winp/documents/top100.pdf.
The rule change also set off a marketing blitz by cell phone companies anxious to keep existing customers and snare new ones from rivals. Forecasts vary, but millions of cell users are expected to switch wireless services over the next year under the new rule.
"We're seeing some survey data that suggests some 21 percent of the population with cell phones may be interested in doing that," the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Michael Powell, said on CBS' "The Early Show."
"You can already see carriers competing very aggressively to get those new consumers," he said.
The nation's two biggest providers, Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless, reported brisk activity at stores and on sales phone lines.
The new federal regulations also allow consumers to move their home landline phone number to a cellular phone.
Powell advised consumers who are considering changing carriers to compare services.
Cell phone users also need to review their current contracts to be prepared for any fees that may be charged for getting out of service contracts early.
The process to change companies is easy, Powell said. "You just contact the new carrier you want to switch to and they're responsible for handling the rest."