Now that we're 20 years past TN 2.0, well into the 21st century, and onto the 3rd generation of the web; it is about time we move telephone numbers into the Internet age. They are still managed as if they all connect to four copper wires. We manage to the lowest common denominator rather than acknowledging the power of mobility and Internet technology. Telephone Number 3.0 needs to treat telephone numbers more like Internet resources and enable greater consumer control, while at the same time conserving numbering resources.
I'm advocating for a model more like Internet domain names. Let consumers get their own telephone numbers from an entity similar to a domain name registry. Here's how it could work: the registry maintains an inventory of telephone numbers. It provides credentials to the consumer so that he can prove he owns the telephone number. The consumer then brings the telephone number and credential to their chosen service provider to activate their service. The service provider also uses the credential to update the registry with any relevant information. If the consumer wants to change service providers he brings the credential to the new service provider.
The registry could be funded by fees to either the service providers or directly to the consumer.
There are a number of benefits to this approach. First by allowing service providers to get telephone numbers on behalf of their customer, but not to carry an inventory, it conserves telephone numbers. Second, activation of telephone numbers will be immediate through the registry. Third, the registry will make all relevant information readily available to all. And finally, rather than taking something away from service providers this process actually frees them up from something they don't need to do. Why manage a vast nationwide inventory of telephone numbers requiring a significant investment in systems, processes and people? Let the consumers do it. The telephone number is simply an attribute of their service. It's a win-win situation for all.
Another simple thing to do is to activate all 792 central office codes in each existing geographic area code. Doing so will increase the available inventory of telephone numbers from 1.4B to 2.8B and would provide more consumer choice. (There are about 350 area codes, each with about 8M telephone numbers; 350 x 8M = 2.8B.) If done right, we would never need to implement a new area code because of exhaust. (There are 300M people in the US using an average of 2.5 telephone numbers each for a total of 750M assigned telephone numbers. Double 2.5 to 5 and we're still well below 2.8B assigned telephone numbers.) However if an area code needs to be implemented the registry would manage that process.
We should also do away with rate centers. Rate centers are irrelevant to the vast majority of billing plans and should not be relevant in a post-PSTN world. People no longer look for a central office code that is close to their home, e.g., PYramid 1 and Valley Stream. There's no need to let rate centers hold unused telephone numbers hostage.
I'm not naïve, I know that there will be significant issues to work out. We need to address current inventory, legacy systems and networks — how to implement the new regime; and how to transition to it — to name just a few issues. We need to ensure that speculation and squatting don't have a negative effect on conservation and consumers' desires. How do we manage highly desirable area codes (e.g., 212, 321, 777) and telephone numbers (e.g., repeating digits)? Should there be a link between a person's geography and the telephone numbers they can register? How do we maintain the important services for law enforcement and public safety? This will have far reaching effects and will take many years to plan and implement. There is a lot of work to do.
It is 2011 and the pace of change is constantly accelerating. It was about 80 years between TN 1.0 and TN 2.0. It's been about 20 years since TN 2.0. Service providers are evolving their networks to advanced IP platforms. All communication is rapidly moving to the Internet. The time to start planning TN 3.0 is now.
By Tom McGarry, VP of Research at Neustar Labs
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