Phone Number Shortage Hurts Cable

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Mass. Gov. Paul Cellucci gave a boost earlier this month to
efforts by cable companies and other telephone competitors to break the telephone
numbering log-jam.

Cellucci asked the Federal Communications Commission to
allow his state to set competitor-friendly policies. Cellucci supports an effort by his
state Department of Telecommunications and Energy to assign seven-digit telephone numbers
in blocks of 1,000, rather than 10,000, as a remedy for short-term number exhaustion.

Such a solution is supported by telephony competitors,
including cable, because the bulk of the remaining usable telephone numbers in an area
code are in the control of incumbent telco operators. Competitors claim incumbents go so
far as to "pollute" the 10,000 number blocks; that is, they assign a handful of
numbers from the numbering sequence, then claim the block permanently for their own use.

Massachusetts is closely watched by bureaucrats and cable
telephony competitors in other states, because it has advanced furthest on problem solving
on number shortage. Competitors in other states, such as California, where operators say
the shortage of numbers has stifled telephony efforts, have filed petitions with the FCC
in support of Massachusetts' efforts.

The FCC, to date, has nixed short-term solutions, asserting
authority over numbering schemes and opting, so far, to cautiously work toward permanent,
long-term solutions.

The Massachusetts proposal is a "step in the right
direction," said Bill Duran, executive vice president and chief counsel for the New
England Cable Telecommunications Association. "But we need [number] conservation,
too."

"We're strongly in favor of anything that gets us
numbers. We're dead without them," Duran added.

"I think it's absolutely fabulous" that a public
figure such as Cellucci getting involved in such a core issue, said Bartlett Leber, vice
president and corporate counsel for MediaOne.

The issue has become a political hot potato in the state
because of the constant need to split Boston's area code. The drive to deplay the split or
keep old area codes has prompted consensus-building on assignment issues that should
result in joint pressure on the FCC to loosen the reigns.

Leber noted that a lack of numbers has stifled competition
in neighboring New Hampshire, as well. The state has one area code, 603, and legislators
there are loathe to do anything that will create a new code.

As a result, MediaOne must participate in a monthly lottery
and hope it beats out 13 incumbent local exchange carriers, plus all the certified
competitors, for a block of 10,000 numbers.

She said MediaOne hasn't really been able to establish
itself in the state because of the impediment.

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