Verizon Agrees to Port in Fla.

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Verizon Communications Inc. will allow customers to take their telephone numbers to competitor Bright House Networks in Florida, ending a formal complaint review initiated by the cable operator at the state’s Public Service Commission.

Attorney General Charlie Crist mediated settlement talks after he intervened in February. Crist concluded Verizon’s practice of refusing to allow consumers to take their numbers to BHN, unless they also dropped Verizon DSL service, was anti-competitive.

Verizon also refused to sell standalone DSL service. Both strategies discouraged consumers from switching providers, according to the complaint to the PSC.

BHN raised the issue last September, complaining to the PSC that it lost 24% of new telephone sign-ups between June and August of last year in the Tampa Bay area because consumers canceled the switch when they found they’d lose their DSL service (and familiar e-mail address) if they took the cable operator’s phone service.

Verizon said at that time that technical constraints prevented it from unbundling the two products, but now it offers standalone DSL service.

The PSC found Verizon’s behavior was anti-competitive. When the attorney general got involved, he also determined that Verizon’s actions violated state and federal laws on number portability.

A previous ruling by the Federal Communications Commission bolstered the findings of the state attorney general. BellSouth Corp. sought a ruling by that agency that local and state regulators could not compel a regional Bell operating company to unbundle its network. In March, though, the FCC said the RBOC is required to observe the same rules as any other local exchange carrier.

Under the stipulated dismissal announced Aug. 1, Verizon agreed to “act without delay” to transfer all requested numbers to Bright House, adhering to federal portability rules.

BHN Tampa Bay Division Kevin Hyman said his company originally filed the complaint to challenge competitive policies that were unjust and unreasonable.

“Verizon’s decision to change its policies opens the door for consumers to switch phone providers without limitation,” he said in a statement.

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