Mobile Number Portability Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

I've just emerged victorious from a battle with my former mobile provider, Verizon Wireless. Last Wednesday night, I lost my mobile phone on a trip to visit my cousin in New Jersey. I immediately called Verizon to suspend service on the phone, so that if anyone picked it up, they couldn't ring up charges on my bill. The next day, I visited a Verizon Wireless store and was kept waiting for over a half hour for a sales rep. While perusing Verizon's sad selection of phones, I decided that since it had been 30 minutes and no one had yet stepped up to help me, that perhaps I had better take my business elsewhere. I was already unimpressed with Verizon's service. My phone would often ring to tell me I had voice mail and upon dialing in, I would find out that it was a message left two days prior. Since this might result in a bad situation, I figured it was time for a new provider.

One of the phones that really impressed me was the Handspring Treo 600. Among the providers supporting this phone are T-Mobile (with which I had a nasty experience a few years ago when they were VoiceStream) and Sprint. I elected to go with Sprint and transfer my number.

What I quickly learned is that one can't transfer a number that is attached to an account that has been suspended for any reason. Sprint kept trying to port the number over and Verizon wouldn't release it. I called Verizon several times to try to get them to release the number. After several unsuccessful attempts, a nice customer service rep from Sprint set up a conference call with myself and Verizon to try to ascertain what the problem was.

It turns out the problem was that Verizon had zeroed out the ESN attached to my old phone, in order to keep anyone from using it. The number wouldn't port without an ESN, so Verizon had to put my old ESN in, at great personal risk to me because anyone who had the phone at the time could have racked up charges in my name.

The next day, I called Sprint again because my new phone still didn't work and they informed me the problem still wasn't taken care of. Another call to Verizon indicated that "everything seemed okay" on their end and that there was nothing they could do. I decided to wait it out and sure enough, the next day, the phone started working shortly after noon.

While all of this could have been a legit computer glitch, I'm hearing horror stories from a lot of people about number portability and I can't help but think that providers are deliberately making this process difficult in an effort to hang on to existing customers who want to change their service. If I hadn't been upgrading my phone to something more full-featured, I might have given up during the hour-long conference call between Sprint and Verizon and gone back to Verizon. In retrospect, however, I'm glad I was persistent.