how to keep cell phone number?
June 7, 2010 9:23 PM   Subscribe

I have an iPhone on AT&T Wireless. I have moved to an area where AT&T does not provide native cellular and data service. I need your advice/ideas on how best to proceed to protect my cell phone number.

Hello - thanks for reading!

Here's the background: I have an iPhone with service on AT&T Wireless. I recently moved from a large West Coast city to an inland state where AT&T does not have native cell network coverage. While my phone currently works by roaming on partner networks, I know I am at risk of having my contract terminated by AT&T for excessive off-network (roaming) usage. This would be bad since I don't want to lose my current phone number.

My service contract with AT&T is up on August 3, 2010. I would prefer to stay through the end of this contract if AT&T allows me (i.e. doesn't terminate me for the excessive roaming) and then port my number to a carrier with native coverage in this area. It's a crapshoot, though, as they won't tell me (yes, I called them to ask) when they might determine that my usage is "excessive."

What are your thoughts/ideas on how I should proceed to protect my phone number? Does anyone have any experience with this kind of situation?

As a side note, I have checked out "pay as you go" cell options and while you can often port numbers *to* them, it's often not possible to port numbers *from* them. Also, I haven't been able to find any information about AT&T providing some sort of "mothball" plan that would allow me to shelve the service for the next couple of months.

Thanks for all your help!
posted by karizma to Technology (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're really concerned with keeping the number, I'd just switch carriers and pay the ETF. You're already considering "mothballing" the ATT account for two months, so I'm assuming the cost here won't be too much of an issue. In my experience they are somewhat capricious in determining when your roaming is excessive - they terminated my mom's account while leaving my dad's intact, even though their usage patterns were almost identical.
posted by sanko at 9:30 PM on June 7, 2010

You'll be given a prorated ETF if you cancel now. Since your contract is up in 2 months you'll only pay 1/12th (2 of 24 months, given a 2 year contract) of your ETF. So it's probably not too much to port your number to a carrier who can offer service and just pay the ETF. Then you can secure your number.
Another option that I used with TMobile was to tell them you are traveling overseas for 2 months. They'll gladly put you on a small monthly amount (with TMobile it was $5 or 10, can't recall) that basically idles your service for the duration.
posted by msbutah at 9:44 PM on June 7, 2010

Since you've only got a month left on your contract, just sign up for a new carrier and port your number now, and either pay AT&T's 1 month ETF or eat the last month's fee.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:48 PM on June 7, 2010

Thanks for the answers thus far.

I wasn't aware that AT&T would prorate the ETF fee - Do you know if that might be documented somewhere online? I've never heard of a carrier doing that.

I have resisted porting now as the full ETF fee is not something I can afford on top of buying a new phone/service with the new carrier.

Regarding other options - has anyone ever tried cell phone number parking services like or

posted by karizma at 10:01 PM on June 7, 2010

It's been a few years, but when I managed a company's business accounts for mobile service with ATT we would routinely have some #s suspended as staffing levels changed. There was a nominal (@$10/mo) fee to do so, but no other charge to suspend or re-activate the #s as we needed them.
Or, could you set your ATT phone to forward to a new 'pay as you go' # for the last few weeks of your contract? At least you wouldn't have to advertise a new # to your contacts.
posted by TDIpod at 10:07 PM on June 7, 2010

AT&T began offering prorated ETFs in early 2008, so it sounds like you would be included. Your fee would be $175, less five dollars per month of the contract completed. So if you're out as of August, you'd only pay $70. But it's rare that someone is terminated for excessive roaming these days, and if it's already been that way for a few months and it hasn't happened. If the service is so bad that it impacts your ability to do business or communicate with family/friends, it might be worth it to just port-out and protect your number.
posted by cgomez at 11:03 PM on June 7, 2010

I've had no issues porting in or out of tmobile prepaid. The price works out well... I essentially parked a number there for about a year.
posted by hey you over in the corner at 9:02 AM on June 8, 2010

Any reason you couldn't keep the phone off and forward the calls to a Skype number until your contract is terminated? You're not roaming then.
posted by micawber at 9:19 AM on June 8, 2010

I have no idea if this would work, but I think it should. Tell whoever you want your new account with that you want to port the number, so they have their system setup to grab the new number, but then don't tell AT&T that you're porting until you are out of the contract. If AT&T ditches your account before the contract is up, the new carrier should still pick up the number. I think.
posted by jrishel at 11:06 AM on June 8, 2010

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