It seems my problem all stems from the fact that I took bad advice early on from an AT&T rep and activated my phone in Oregon. Unfortunately, mobile telecom is still mired in its landline origins. Area codes are still area codes tied to a specific geographic location.
Mobility creates problems. As frustrating as this experience has been, I’m not particularly angry about it. Businesses like AT&T want to know how much revenue they generate in a certain region. States want to collect taxes. Cities want 911 fees from residents paying phone bills. I’m sure the city of Chicago isn’t going to cut Portland a $15 check just because my billing address has been here for the last year.
In 2003, local number portability was mandated by the FCC for wireless numbers in metropolitan areas. It was never intended to create a lifetime phone number; the purpose was simply to reduce end-user switching costs between carriers within a market. AT&T’s porting system is just strictly enforcing the rules.
Still, I’m not big on rules. They don’t always make sense. There are countless laws still on the books that seem silly or bizarre today. Just because tax rules and government regulations haven’t kept up with the way society uses mobile technology, that certainly doesn’t mean that I have to play along and just deal with the major hassle of changing the phone number that all my business associates and friends use.
But now things appear to be fixed. I can make outgoing calls and caller ID shows them coming from my Chicago number. The transfer from T-Mobile appears to be under way. Here’s what happened:
First, if you haven’t activated yet and you’re living in a different region than your area code would indicate, try the trick laid out by AppleInsider.
It was too late for me — I’d already contacted AT&T and been advised to just activate the phone and port the numbers after. So I went to the AT&T store today and said that I needed a way to keep my iPhone — if I can’t move my number, I’m returning it. The AT&T guy was really nice — as everyone has been, even when they couldn’t find a way to help me — and wanted to help.
I discussed the AppleInsider tip and asked if he could move my account to Chicago so I could get the port to work, or perhaps I could cancel the account and just start over. He thought that I should call to cancel, where I’d be put through to a special group tasked with trying to hold onto departing customers. He said they’d ask why I was leaving and might be able to resolve the issue. (I’m guessing some of their compensation may be based on hanging onto customers — maybe this could tip the balance in my favor.) I asked if I’d need a new SIM card if I had to re-activate; he said I would and gave me one just in case.
I called AT&T and ended up speaking with a guy in the cancellations group (or whatever they call it). I kept getting put on hold as he tried to find out how to fix it. We had some false starts when he thought I was having a problem moving a Chicago AT&T number, and momentary panic when he said they couldn’t move the T-Mobile number. But he went back to it and eventually he put me through to a girl in relocations. She would help me with my move; she would then put me through to porting who would move my number over.
She also got a bit mixed up at one point. But she eventually found the right process, cancelled my new Oregon account, created a new Illinois account and linked it to the new SIM card. She transferred me to porting. He initiated the port, told me to put in the new SIM and connect to iTunes.
He didn’t think any re-activation through iTunes would be needed (he was wrong); by now I’d been through enough to cover my bases. I confirmed that if I did need to re-activate in iTunes, that I’d be selecting the option to use the iPhone with an existing AT&T wireless number.
We briefly discussed trying to port over my girlfriend’s number and completing the whole family plan thing, but agreed that’s best left for after my phone is up and running. We hung up. I’d been on the phone for an hour and forty-five minutes.
The iPhone recognized that the SIM had changed and insisted that I re-activate. I plugged into iTunes and things went smoothly, although I now got the option to add a data plan to my existing plan rather than select one of the iPhone plans. Now I’m just waiting for the port to go through.
There will still be some clean-up to deal with — who knows what’s going to come of the cancelled Oregon account, Illinois account created to receive the port, how I’ll get on the correct iPhone plan, and what will happen when I try to port over Diane’s number. But I think the worst is over and I’m keeping my number!