A 172-day journey from Broadvoice to Vonage

One reader learns more than he ever wanted to know about porting phone numbers between VoIP providers

Rob wrote to the Gripe Line to share the epic journey he took trying to port two phone numbers from Broadvoice to Vonage. The FCC decreed in 2003 -- under its line number portability (LNP) rules -- that consumers should be able to choose their phone carrier without losing their phone number in the process. Since then, it has been possible to take your landline to a cell phone or vice versa without the hassle of switching phone numbers. But when Rob tried to do just this recently, he found himself in a no-man's land of red tape and brick walls.

"I left Vonage for Broadvoice," he explains, "to take advantage of Broadvoice's offer of unlimited service to Brazil (where my in-laws live). But when Vonage offered a package that included Brazil in January, I wanted to switch back to Vonage to get their fax capabilities."

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Since the FCC took steps in 2007 to ensure that VoIP companies are included in the LNP rules so that consumers can take numbers from VoIP service providers to wireless, landline, or other VoIP providers, this seemed like an excellent -- and workable -- plan. Vonage agreed. But things did not go well.

"My 301 area code phone number transferred just fine," reports Rob. "That's the number I brought to Broadvoice when I arrived. But my 202 number wouldn't transfer." A representative at Vonage told Rob that she got a "name mismatch error" when trying to port his 202 phone number.

"Both the 301 and the 202 number were on the same account," says Rob, "so how could my name, address, and account information be different? I tried several variations: Rob, Robert.  But nothing would get the number transferred."

A lot of people would have given up at this point, but Rob wanted those phone numbers and the FCC said he should be able to have them. He was determined. He turned his attention next to Global NAPS (GNAPS), the company Broadvoice got his 202 phone number from. "For some reason, Broadvoice doesn't want to give up numbers it acquired from GNAPS," he explains. "In its terms of service, it says it won't transfer any phone numbers it has assigned. This is even though the FCC says it has to."

Rob was very persistent, but GNAPS would not budge. Rob got some help from Cindy, a representative at Vonage, who finally managed to reach a person "who executes LNP transfers at GNAPS." But that person told Rob, "You're not a GNAPS customer, you're a Broadvoice customer. I can't do anything."

Frustrated, Rob turned next to the FCC, which offers a form for complaints on this sort of thing at its Web site. And it has stated, "To keep the process as short as possible, the FCC recently clarified that companies may not obstruct or delay number porting by requiring you to provide excessive personal information before porting your existing telephone number."

Rob skipped the form and opted instead to call. "I found the number of a top-level person in the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. I left her a voice mail, and she called me five times to find out what kind of problem I was having."

Meanwhile, Cindy at Vonage spoke to the Vonage legal team and tried to come up with a solution. "I had given a full synopsis of my efforts to her via e-mail," says Rob. "And she sent that e-mail to the legal team at Vonage, GNAPS, and Broadvoice." The result? More red tape and an estimated 45-day wait for the FCC to rule on his case.

Forty-five days later, Rob was about ready to give up and accept that he would have no choice but to get a new phone number in order to jump to Vonage. But then, at the 11th hour, he got an e-mail from GNAPS. This time the company would agree to transfer his number.

"The e-mail said nothing about their illegal policy against LNP, nothing about the six months of phone bills I have been paying to Vonage and Broadvoice simultaneously so I wouldn't lose my phone numbers. There wasn't even a 'sorry for your trouble,'" says Rob. But finally, in July, Rob had both of his phone numbers working on Vonage.

Broadvoice managed to deliver one final blow, though, as Rob was leaving. "Most companies terminate your service when the number is transferred," says Rob. But Broadvoice kept right on billing him. "After another call, I discovered they will only accept cancellations sent via e-mail to one certain e-mail address."

The FCC estimates the process of porting a phone number should take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days. For Rob, "It was a 172-day journey during which I learned way more than I wanted to about the companies that own phone numbers."