article

Portability Does a Number on Billing, Provisioning

Posted: 12/2003

Portability Does a Number on Billing, Provisioning
By Khali Henderson

While freeing consumers to select their carriers
of choice, number portability is saddling service providers with end-user and
access billing and provisioning headaches that line-level database operators and
LEC billing clearinghouses are working to mitigate.

The problem is line identification, or more precisely, which
operator provides service to a line. The new rules concerning
wireless-to-wireless and wireless-towireline portability effective Nov. 24, are
not creating the problem, but they are expected to make it worse.

Difficulties around line identification can be traced to
industry implementation of expanded local service resale and local service
unbundling dictated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, says Kelly Anderson,
director of industry relations for Intrado Inc., which operates the IntelliBase
National Repository Line Level Database, encompassing line-, switch- and
company-level information for North American working wireline and wireless
telephone numbers.

Prior to the act, she explains, it was possible to know which
local service provider owned a 10-digit telephone number, simply by looking at
the first six digits of the number, known as the Numbering Plan Area
Office Code (NPANXX) combination. Since divestiture in 1984, this six-digit line
information was kept in databases namely the Bellcore (now Telcordia
Technologies Inc.) Local Exchange Routing Guide (LERG) and TPM files based
on North American Numbering Plan assignments in blocks of 10,000 numbers. With
that information, long-distance providers not only could route calls but also
send call records to the RBOC of record for billing. Once competitive LECs
entered the market, records for long distance (and other enhanced services such
as broadband access or Web hosting) sent to the incumbent LECs based on this
information would be rejected and slapped with the infamous Return Code 50. The
IXC would have to do a manual investigation to find the operating company number
(OCN) in order to bill the call through the CLEC or, in most cases, to get
end-user billing name and address (BNA) information to issue a direct bill.

Even a seven-digit screen, which identifies the OCN in
thousand number blocks, is ineffective in determining the owner when numbers
within a block can be ported, explains Anderson. Thats why in early 2001, the
Ordering and Billing Forum (OBF) of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry
Solutions (ATIS) issued an RFP to develop a 10-digit screen to reveal the
necessary information. That database was developed and released by Intrado in
September 2002, and now includes data from more than 50 percent of CLECs. Still,
Anderson says databases with older, less detailed formats frequently still are
used for billing.

Over time, the volume of Return Code 50 rejects has grown
steadily. Since 1998, Billing Concepts Inc., a LEC billing clearinghouse,
recorded a fivefold increase in rejected records among its customers.

We expect that problem to be exacerbated by wireless number
portability, says Don Philbin, COO for Billing Concepts. One obvious reason
is landline providers and clearinghouses do not have billing and collection
agreements with wireless operators.

In anticipation of an increase in unbillable records, Billing
Concepts is beefing up its BC Billing Essential Transaction Information (BETI)
service, which aggregates OCN and BNA databases for service provider use. In
addition to its own databases built from processing more than a billion
transactions, BC BETI includes access to three line information databases and
five BNA sources, including Intrados IntelliBase. Two additional databases
one line-level and one BNA as well as access to a CLEC CARE
clearinghouse were expected to be added at the end of November.

BC BETI can be used for front-end screening before a call is
processed and back-end matching for appropriate LEC or direct billing. Billing
Concepts also offers a Revenue Recovery service, launched in June 2001, to
direct bill rejected call records that have been matched to a BNA.

LEC clearinghouse ILD Telecommunications Inc. also added a
direct billing service about five months ago to help customers retrieve lost
revenue due to LEC unbillables. In November, the company announced its
LEC-billed customers now could use the services with no setup fees or costs. We
are also opening this service to any outside LEC-billed company that would like
to retrieve some of the money lost because of the high number of CLECs entering
the local service markets, says an ILD spokesperson.

ILD also has expanded the NPA-NXX lookup to 10 digits in order
to identify the OCN and added a Code 50 rebill enhancement. ILD creates a
file for all call records that enter the system. If it has come through the
system before and has returned as a CLEC number that is billable, it is tagged
and rebilled to the correct LEC. This avoids the return charges from the ILEC.
The rebills are noted separately in the system and respectively on reports.

Clearinghouse ACI Billing Services Inc. has completed beta
testing for its integrated LEC and direct billing service, Revenue Rescue, and
expects to make it generally available by the end of this year. ACI maintains a
database of LEC error code 50 returns and other similar LEC unbillable records.
Up front, ACI identifies messages the LECs will reject as part of the
outclearing process and redirects them to Revenue Rescue for BNA matching and
direct billing. The company says this eliminates the time that typically expires
prior to generating a direct invoice to the responsible end user and, thereby,
decreases age of toll and improves collections.

Revenue from the direct-billed records is tracked and reported
along with LEC-billed records in ACIs ProAct reporting system for a
consolidated view.

They can see whats paid and whats bad debt, says
Jerry Merkt, vice president of sales and marketing for ACI. He adds, the service
was conceived in anticipation of portability and that during the beta phase and
initial conversations, customers have been enthusiastic.

Intrados Anderson notes that with the addition of wireless
local numbers, an inability to bill is compounded by an inability to collect
since the local phone cannot be turned off for nonpayment. In addition, she says
there is no way to block calls from wireless phones that do not go through the
local switch but through a mobile positioning center. She says, They may be
able to bill it to your home address, but whats your incentive to pay it?

Thats where pre-call screening can help. Many database
operators and gateway service providers like Billing Concepts, SNET DG and
Targusinfo offer real-time screening of calls before they are processed
to ensure that they will be billable.

The SNET DG Data Gateway application, released November 2002,
enables carriers to screen calls while they are being processed, completing only
calls that are likely to result in billable messages. Making the choice to
complete or terminate the call minimizes the carriers administration by
preventing messages that would ultimately become unbillable.

Suspending the call during call processing will allow the
customer to avoid a Return Code 50 Reject all together, says Kelli Gracy,
product manager for SNET Data Gateway. This saves the carrier the cost for
processing an unbillable record as well as the cost of carrying the call, which
may not be recovered.

Gracy adds SNET DG also helps carriers save money by querying
databases using a least-cost methodology. Query types and access contracts vary
by database owner, so SNET DG always selects the least-expensive query that will
fulfill the data request, she explains.

This fall TARGUSinfo enhanced its TelcoExpress service
with the ability to prescreen transactions through an IP connection to TARGUSinfo
to avoid rejects. The issue is huge and growing everyday with number
portability, says Jeff Verderame, vice president of sales for telecom
services at TARGUSinfo. He adds TelcoExpress employs a least-cost query
method that can help telcos realize a 60 percent savings.

The enhanced service, Verderame says, delivers more
information than traditional LIDB queries. For example, it can tell you whether
the endpoint on a particular record is a business or residential phone. It also
registers whether a phone number has restrictions on it such as a long-distance
block. If you provide longdistance service or you want to sell long-distance
to a particular phone number, that could be important for someone that is
thinking about adding the phone number as a customer maybe someone to steer
clear of, he says.

Betty Cockrell, director of industry relations for Billing
Concepts adds that the queries to line-level databases also can be used by
providers for routing service requests, such as an IXC PIC request.

Intrados Anderson agrees, noting provisioning issues are
top-of-mind for wireless carriers and may be the impetus for them to cooperate
with database owners by inputting their line-level information into the
databases. What a lot of them are concerned about is misrouting the services
request, she says. If [mass switching happens,] thats going to be a
huge amount of porting up front. If they have to send service requests from one carrier to
another today, all they have to depend on is who the number is assigned to not
who it is provisioned to. The wireless carriers we have talked to are pretty interested
in a solution that would allow them to route the service order correctly the
first time as opposed to having it rejected and doing some error management that
could take weeks to determine who to send the order to. [Recent studies show]
customers expect a fairly quick turnaround from porting from one carrier to
another so needless to say, two weeks is not going to be acceptable.

They could look at Number Portability Administration Center
(NPAC) operated by NeuStar Inc., but Anderson says that database identifies the
network service providers, but not resellers that maintain the end-user
relationship and must receive the service requests.

Similarly, she says, identification of the provisioning
carriers for traffic that originates or terminates on a switch is key to access
and reciprocal compensation billing. Looking up the number on a six- or
seven-digit level presents the same problem [as it does for end user billing],
Anderson explains. It may all look like the ILEC, when its one of 20
CLECs.

She adds its almost more difficult to decipher than
end-user records due to the number of call types that create a usage record and
the fact that reciprocal compensation terms can vary among the carriers. Being
able to identify what carrier in the wireless arena that you need to bill or not
bill or try to get an agreement with is not clear as well, she says, adding
that being able to validate reciprocal comp or long-distance toll access bills
also becomes problematic in this scenario.

With many of these problems in mind, this summer ATIS
established the ATIS Data Interchange Focus Group, to bring together wireline
and wireless service providers, manufacturers and software providers to develop
a comprehensive plan to determine a suite of standards and industry solutions
that support service ordering, provisioning and billing across multiple service
provider boundaries.

A key challenge we are facing as an industry is the lack of
standards for new technologies that allow service providers including local
service providers, interexchange carriers, wireless service providers, Internet
service providers and others to exchange essential ordering, billing and
provisioning data in a seamless environment, says Susan M. Miller, president
and CEO of ATIS, in announcing the effort. Much work has been done in these
areas, but theres been a general failure by the industry to fully coordinate
standards work. Data interchange is a critical priority, and the industry needs
to tightly coordinate standards activities and create sustainable solutions, in
order to launch new products and services.

Venkates Swaminathan, vice president and chief strategist for
service management solutions for NeuStar, serves as the leader of the focus
group. Without the right standards in place for how a service gets
provisioned and billed across service provider boundaries, its impossible to
deliver services in a cost-effective way, he says, explaining the group will
focus on the processes, data models and implementation agreements necessary to
deliver new services, and include not only billing and provisioning, but also
mediation and service management.

Are Wireless Carriers Ready?

Carrier


WNP
Readiness Level


Capability Criteria
Nextel 50 percent Guidelines that specifically address enterprise issues and
concerns
Dedicated Intercarrier WNP Call Center
Anti-slamming Measures
Enterprise-specific
WNP Call Center Prepared for Wireline-to- Wireless Porting
Sprint PCS 50 percent Guidelines that specifically address enterprise i ssues and
concerns
Dedicated Intercarrier WNP Call Center
Anti-slamming Measures
Enterprise-specific WNP Call Center
Experience (Sister Wireline Company)
Verizon
Wireless
50 percent FAQs and tip sheets for consumers
Dedicated
Intercarrier WNP Call Center
Anti-slamming Measures
Enterprise-specific WNP Call
Center
Experience (Sister Wireline Company)
Prepared for Wireline-to-Wireless
Porting
Cingular 40 percent FAQs and tip sheets for consumers
Dedicated
Intercarrier WNP Call Center
Anti-slamming Measures
Enterprise-specific WNP Call
Center
Experience (Sister Wireline Company)
AT&T Wireless 30 percent FAQs
and tip sheets for consumers
Dedicated Intercarrier WNP Call Center
Anti-slamming Measures
Experience (Sister Wireline Company)
T-Mobile 20 percent FAQs and tip sheets for consumers
Dedicated Intercarrier WNP Call Center
Anti-slamming Measures

None has completed testing with all five rivals.
None has finalized SLAs between itself and the other five carriers.
None has finalized carrier-to-enterprise SLAs.

Source: Mobile Competency

FCC Clears Way for Wireline-to-Wireless LNP

The Federal Communications Commission reaffirmed
Nov. 10 that under its current rules wireline carriers must port numbers to
wireless carriers. The order provides guidance to the wireless and wireline
industries on issues related to intermodal local number portability (LNP)
the ability of customers to switch from a wireline carrier to a wireless
carrier, or from a wireless to a wireline carrier, without changing telephone
numbers.

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,
the FCC clarified that porting from a wireline carrier to a wireless carrier is
required where the requesting wireless carriers coverage area overlaps the
geographic location in which the wireline number is provisioned, including cases
where the wireless carrier does not have a point of interconnection or numbering
resources in the rate center to which the phone number is assigned.

A rate center is the geographic area served by a wireline carriers
central office switch, and is used to determine the rating of calls to and from
that switch as local or toll calls. Blocks of telephone numbers used by both
wireline and wireless carriers are assigned to particular rate centers. Wireline
LECs have numbering resources in most rate centers, however wireless carriers,
because of the nature of their networks, typically do not. Wireless carriers
instead serve customers over a wider geographic area from a single rate center
in that area.

The order follows up on an Oct. 7 order that addressed similar issues with
respect to the implementation of wireless-to-wireless LNP. Under commission
rules, wireless carriers in the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas
(MSAs) must support LNP effective Nov. 24, enabling consumers to begin both
wireless-to-wireless and intermodal porting in those markets.

The FCCs Nov. 10 order requires wireline carriers to port phone numbers to
wireless carriers in cases where the wireless carriers coverage area the
area in which wireless service can be received from that carrier overlaps
the rate center in which the wireline phone number is assigned, provided that
the wireless carrier maintains the numbers original rate center designation
following the port.

Wireline carriers operating in the 100 largest MSAs must support
wireline-to-wireless number porting effective Nov. 24, 2003, unless they can
demonstrate that complying with these requirements would be technically
infeasible. Wireline carriers operating outside the 100 largest MSAs are not
required to comply with the order until May 24, 2004, which is the earliest date
that wireless carriers serving these areas are required to implement LNP.

The order also clarifies that wireless carriers do not need to negotiate
interconnection agreements with wireline carriers solely for porting numbers. In
cases where parties are unable to reach an agreement on porting terms, the FCC
requires carriers to port numbers upon request and receipt of appropriate
technical information, with no conditions.

Regarding the length of time it will take to port a number from a wireline to
a wireless phone, the FCC has not adopted a mandatory interval, but is instead
seeking comment on this issue in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
Wireline carriers now must port numbers to other carriers within four business
days, and the FCC is seeking comment on whether this interval should be reduced.
The FCC also seeks comment on issues related to wireless-to-wireline porting,
such as the technical and regulatory obstacles associated with wireless-to-wireline porting when the rate center associated with the wireless number and
the rate center in which the wireline carrier seeks to serve the customer do not
match.

Links
Telcordia Technologies Inc. www.telcordia.com
Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) www.atis.org
ACI Billing Services Inc. www.acibilling.com
Billing Concepts Inc. www.billingconcepts.com
Federal Communications Commission www.fcc.com
ILD Telecommunications Inc. www.ildtelecom.com
Intrado Inc. www.intrado.com
SNET DG www.snetdg.com
Targusinfowww.targus.com
NeuStar Inc. www.neustar.com

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