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(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
The number portability era in Israel got off to a slow start on Sunday. The Communications Ministry reported that only 350 of an estimated 1,400 requests had been filled by the afternoon. The ministry, however, remained upbeat, stressing the need for patience as the system works out its kinks.
"Keep in mind that this is only the first day of the program - the number portability program is not going to be something that will quickly disappear, but it will be here forever, and it is to be expected that there will be problems at the beginning," the Communications Ministry said in a statement.
The country's largest cellphone companies, meanwhile, claimed that the first day was very successful, saying that they were "very happy" with with the number of new customers they signed up on day one.
"We see that they are switching to our service and actually, we have had customers switching for a few weeks now, but it is just taking effect now," Eli Levi, manager of the Orange branch in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post. "The number of customers who have been coming into the store has been normal, but there is definitely a significant portion of the customers who are here to switch from other companies to Orange."
An Orange spokeswoman could not provide exact numbers of how many consumers switched to the company over the first day of number portability. She did say, however, that there has been a very large flow of customers who have come into Orange branches across the country to make the switch. "We are confident that many more will make the switch to the company over the next few weeks and this program is an invitation for customers who have wanted to switch to Orange to do so while keeping their number," she said.
The Communications Ministry's number portability program allows cellphone subscribers to take their numbers with them between cellphone companies within three hours of making the request. Switching between fixed-line carriers will take longer as technicians are needed to update the infrastructure. The Communications Ministry believes that the lack of portability has been one of the main barriers preventing consumers from switching providers.
According to regulations established by the Communications Ministry, customers who want to make the switch to a new cellphone provider can do so at service centers or over the phone. Over the last few months cellphone providers have significantly increased the number of call center employees and technicians they employ to deal with the anticipated high demand for change.
Pelephone, a company that many analysts had predicted in the weeks leading up to the introduction of number portability would lose the most customers, reported at the end of the first day that the company not only withstood the threat from other companies, but has outperformed them, as well.
"We are very satisfied with the progress that we made so far in this program in that we have more customers signed up than we lost," a company statement said. "Over the course of the day, we have had increasing numbers of customers sign up to Pelephone and we expect that over the coming weeks, we will continue to sign up more and more customers," a company spokeswoman said.
At the Cellcom store in Talpiot on Sunday, business seemed to be brisk, although a Cellcom employee told the Post she didn't think it was different from any other day. "I have been here for a month now, and this is pretty normal for us," she said.
Officials in the communications sector, meanwhile, reported that many customers have switched to Cellcom over the first day of number portability and that the company is "very happy with the number of customers who have switched and it has reported no technical problems over the day." Mirs, the country's smallest cellphone provider, reported that the first customer to take advantage of the portability program switched from Cellcom to Mirs, adding that over the day, it has signed up a "significant" number of customers.
Phone Change Tips:
The Israel Consumer Council on Sunday cautioned customers to do their homework before switching cellphone providers, warning that attractive incentives are not enough to make a jump from one company to another.
"Customers really need to be on the lookout for plans which tie them to one company for a long period," council director general Ehud Peleg said.
He noted that in a recent study conducted by the Council, customers who were initially attracted to long-term plans because of the low costs end up paying significant fines, sometimes up to NIS 3,000, when they terminate a contract early, as often happens to customers locked into years-long contracts.
Meanwhile, Pa'amonim, a consumer advocacy group, published a list of recommendations aimed at helping consumers gain the best possible advantages for themselves when contemplating a switch between service providers.
Among the recommendations suggested by Pa'amonim, is that before switching, customers should conduct a "market survey" as well as give their current companies a chance to "retain" them. "This is a chance for customers to get something worthwhile from their phone companies and it is worth hearing what your company has to offer as well as hearing what other companies have to offer," Pa'amonim said.
Customers should also limit the length of the new contract; they should not settle for a deal that they believe to be sub par; they should make sure to get everything in writing; and they should stipulate in a new contract a clause that gives them a grace period during which the contract can be voided without having to pay hefty fines, Pa'amonim recommended
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