This is a little-known trap that deserves to be dugg this holiday season: Beware of family plans if you ever want to take your phone number to a new carrier. Number portability regulations do not apply normally. Here's how they get you:
Many family plans have one main number, with an additional one to four numbers tacked on via 'add-a-phone' or family expansion offers. The benefits of these shared plans are obvious: shared minutes, discounted calls to plan members, volume discounts, etc. The trap? Only the main number is eligible for easy number portability. Carriers satisfy the letter of the law - but definitely not its spirit - with irritating conversion processes. Here's a basic scenario:
Let's say you have a family of four, all committed to a family plan that Mom set up:
- Main plan number: Mom-1234
- Attached numbers: Dad-1234, Bro-1234, Sis-1234
Use Case #1. Dad wants to change carriers. Dad can transfer his number out of the family plan and into an individual contract. Once he's satisfied the term of the individual contract (typically one year), then he is free to move his phone number normally. The rest of the family is unaffected.
Use Case #2. Mom wants to change carriers, family loses numbers. When Mom takes her phone number to the new carrier, the wireless account is closed. Dad, Bro, and Sis will all need to start a new group account, under a new 'main number'. And 'new' includes new phone numbers.
Use Case #3. Mom wants to change carriers, family keeps numbers. Dad, Bro, and Sis all transfer their numbers out of the family plan and into individual plans. Mom takes her phone number to a new carrier and the original account is closed.
Some real numbers: My mother and I spend $110/month (before taxes) for our shared Sprint Free & Clear Plan. In order for one or both of us to leave Sprint, we'd have to first (a) convert Mom's add-a-phone number to an individual plan. Setup fee: $79. New comparable plans: $84/month each. Then (b) commit Mom to one year on that plan, subject to a $200 cancellation fee. And (c) purchase a new carrier's phone, say for $100 out of pocket after discounts. (Her current phone does not need to be replaced yet otherwise.) Total extra spent to migrate in 30 days, assuming no minimum contract time for portability: $379. To migrate in a year: $775.
Here's an even better idea: How about true number portability? I'm fairly certain that both my number and mom's number came from the same pool. Is it really that much more difficult to transfer one over the other?