NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Federal regulators have opened the way for consumers to have their home phone numbers transferred to their cell phones, another blow to local phone companies fighting increased competition from wireless phone providers.
The rules are part of new regulations announced Monday by the Federal Communications Commission.
The rules, which take effect Nov. 24, will allow wireless phone customers to hang onto their current wireless phone numbers even if they shift between providers, a process known as number portability.
The commission ruled Monday that the rules also require local phone companies to allow portability to wireless phone services in the nation's 100 largest markets. Carriers outside those 100 markets have an extra six months, until May 24, to comply with the rules.
Number portability is seen as a way of increasing competition between phone providers, since many consumers do not want to lose a number that is well known to friends and acquaintances. The rules that allow portability between different wireless providers is expected to force rates lower due to increased competition.
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In recent years, there has been a trend toward more consumers using only wireless phone service and opting to go without traditional phones. The ability to keep a long-time home phone number when dropping a wireline service could accelerate that trend.
The United States Telecom Association, which represents local phone companies, filed a brief objecting to the new rules, arguing they would create rate problems and do not provide a choice to consumers because they don't allow those consumers to switch their wireless phone number back to a landline number.
USTA spokeswoman Allison Remsen said the association was still reviewing the commission's order and its impact on consumers.
In its report on the ruling, the Washington Post said local phone companies saw a 6 percent drop in the number of local phone lines last year to 179 million, while wireless carriers are enjoying strong growth.
Many big local phone companies, including No. 1 Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ: Research, Estimates), No. 2 SBC Communications Inc. (SBC: Research, Estimates) and No. 3 BellSouth Corp. (BLS: Research, Estimates), have major wireless ventures as a way to deal with the growing competition.