A decision by the CRTC to re-open the contentious debate over wireless local number portability (LNP) – a matter the commission put to bed more than four years ago – will likely again pit Microcell Solutions Inc. against the country’s other national wireless operators.  Microcell, the carrier that led the fight for wireless LNP in the late 1990s, says it’s about time the CRTC decided to take another look at the issue, while another national wireless operators warns that handset prices could rise under a wireless LNP regime.  The commission released a three-year working plan last month (RoW, June 7/04) in which it states that it will look at wireless LNP during 2005/2006. David Colville, vice-chair telecommunications and Atlantic Canada representative at the commission, told a regulatory panel last month at EXPO COMM Canada 2004 that the issue was on the radar screen, but didn’t provide specifics on when it might delve into the matter.  Recent data from Decima Research Inc. shows that the lack of wireless LNP is a factor in Canadian cell phone users’ decision to not switch wireless operators (see article in this issue). Nearly one in three Canadian cell phone users (31%) said that having to change their cell phone number when switching carriers is a big factor preventing them from switching.  Despite the appearance of substantial support for wireless LNP, no other entity or consumer group is pushing for it at the commission. But Microcell says that doesn’t mean the CRTC shouldn’t look at it."Using that as a justification for not acting, it strikes us that the commission should maybe have a little more proactive attitude toward that sort of pro-consumer action. (A lack of interest in pushing wireless LNP debate) shouldn’t necessarily be what determines the commission’s priorities," Microcell’s director of regulatory affairs Dennis Béland tells Report on Wireless.  Telus Mobility says that there is a tradeoff with respect to wireless LNP implementation and it is likely handset prices could increase because of it. "Part of the reality is cell phones are heavily subsidized in Canada and that takes into account that we have low churn rates. We can look at clients to come to a particular carrier, get a number, keep that number and just stay for a long time. So there’s a tradeoff … you may have to look at the idea that phone subsidies may be reduced or go away if that impetus is taken away," a company spokesperson says.  The wireless operator also notes that there could be added costs on the network side. "I couldn’t put a dollar figure on it, but there’s infrastructure costs for sure. And there would be implementation phase costs and time, too," the spokesperson says.  Béland agrees that there will be some additional costs, but says all players in the industry should be able to handle the incremental costs. "The equipment market worldwide, and in North America in particular, has moved forward to where wireless number portability is a standard thing. Six, seven, eight years ago, the CDMA carriers could point to some barriers, but it’s a standard thing (now).  Wireless equipment capable of doing portability is being produced on an absolutely massive scale, particularly because of the U.S. launch. There’s certainly some incremental costs, but I’m sure they are considerably below what the other wireless carriers will try to claim," he says.  The issue of wireless LNP is only a step in the direction of treating all wireless operators on equal regulatory ground. Pointing to the commission’s decision to require all wireless carriers to offer E911 in an equal manner shows that the CRTC is leaning in that direction, says Béland, adding that the other WSPs have been able to enjoy the benefits of wireless CLEC status without having to apply.  "They’re sitting there with the benefits of wireless CLEC status, but the so-called obligations, let’s call them social obligations, they have been historically able to avoid by calling themselves WSPs. The commission figured that game out in the case of 911 and slammed the door shut, (saying) ‘no, all you guys are going to have the same 911 obligations.’ My view would be that the commission should figure that game out in the case of number portability as well," Béland tells Report on Wireless.  Telus says there is no need to re-visit the matter because the industry has worked well in its current form. "The option should be there and Microcell took that option to become a wireless CLEC. It’s difficult to say that wireless isn’t working in Canada because it is heavily competitive, numbers continue to grow (and) coverage continues to grow. In many ways, it’s a ‘don’t fix it because it’s not broken situation’ in that regard," the same Telus spokesperson says.