WASHINGTON – Armstrong Telephone Co. General Manager Jim Culver considers his 5,600-customer company in Rising Sun a rural operation that just happens to fall in the shadow of the big city.
But that location could be a problem for Culver and his company, if it is forced to comply with a new Federal Communications Commission rule on Monday that lets customers transfer their home phone numbers to their cell phones or vice versa.
The FCC ordered that so-called “local number portability” be available in the 100 largest metropolitan areas by Monday. Because Armstrong’s home base of Cecil County falls within the Baltimore region, the tiny private phone company might have to make portability available this week.
“Geographically we fall within that area, but technically we are still considered a rural phone company,” Culver said.
“It’s something that was not expected, especially for smaller rural telephone companies,” he said. “It was something that the FCC, I don’t think, even took into consideration.”
Armstrong Telephone had filed for a waiver from the FCC, but was still waiting to hear as of Friday. Culver said he hoped that the commission would at least give his privately owned company an extension, if not a complete waiver.
“In the past, whenever things like this were done, normally, the small rural telephone companies were able to get some reprieve . . . or were able to get some reprieve and get an extension,” Culver said.
Armstrong’s engineers have determined that the company has the technology to comply with the mandate, but Culver said there are other issues. He is concerned about how he would share the costs of portability with other phone companies, and how he will overcome the inevitable glitches in the new process.
“We’d like to see what some of the problems are that some of the larger companies are going to incur before we have to go through them,” Culver said. “We don’t have access to some of the more complex computer systems for some of these answers . . . it’s just easier for some of these bigger companies to iron out these bugs first.”
Culver concedes he saw the change coming. The FCC has been talking about it for more than a year, and he figures “someone up there just said, ‘Let’s do it.’
“There are so many ramifications, it’s almost like the FCC has taken the attitude that you’ve got to make it work,” he said.
But there is one advantage to being a small, rural company: Culver said none of his customers have asked about transferring, or “porting,” telephone numbers. And that does not surprise him.
“In all honesty . . . I can’t think why someone would want to port a landline number to a cell phone,” he said.