NEW YORK (AP) – Phone companies reported brisk business Monday as cell phone users took advantage of new federal rules enabling them to change providers without switching their numbers.

Verizon Wireless, the nation’s biggest mobile carrier, reported more than twice the usual traffic in its stores, while No. 2 Cingular Wireless said portions of its Web site were down for about two hours as the company added capacity to handle heavier-than-normal visits.

Industry sources, however, said probably fewer than 100,000 customers requested the switch, well shy of forecasts that perhaps millions of cell phone users might try to switch on Monday.

Anecdotal reports indicated that many people were waiting to make sure the process runs smoothly and they are not left without service due to unexpected glitches.

Rosemary Stuessy, a 34-year-old Dallas resident, wasn’t among those willing to wait. Tired of dropped calls on her cell phone, she switched from Sprint to Cingular.

“I’ve been shopping around for several plans for several weeks – I want the best deal,” she said.

The long-awaited rule change, which some called “wireless emancipation,” set off a marketing blitz by cell phone companies, fearful of losing their customers and eager to snare new ones from rivals.

“The companies were smart. They started making deals two months ago and called them holiday deals, so it looks like nothing has happened,” said Morgan Narayanan, a salesman at Bytes-To-Go, a Dallas mall kiosk that brought in two extra workers for Monday’s switch.

The day was rife with publicity stunts by mobile phone companies determined to put the best spin on how they were faring with possibly the biggest change to hit the cellular industry.

Cingular issued a statement announcing “one of the first” conquests of a rival’s customer: five-time world boxing champion Felix “Tito” Trinidad, whose request to switch was processed just after midnight in Puerto Rico.

Some experts cautioned that switchers shouldn’t expect the handoff of phone numbers to take less than three hours, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.

John Hammond, an electrical engineer in Dallas, said he’ll wait a few months until the bugs are worked out. “It would be stupid to do it now,” he said. “They had this thrust on them and weren’t ready for it.”

Cellular carriers were fighting as recently as September to block or delay the new FCC rules, leery of new price wars in an already fiercely competitive market. The change covers the nation’s 100 largest markets, and rural cellular providers are still seeking to stop the change.

The new regulations also allow consumers to move their home or office number to a cell phone. Since only 3 percent of the nation’s 152 million cell phone users have cut the cord by turning off their home phones, most of the activity was expected to be switches among rival cellular companies.

Still, the freedom to take a wired number to a mobile phone could spell trouble for land lines: A survey released Sunday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 21 percent of Americans with cell phones say they have “very” or “somewhat” seriously considered canceling a home telephone line since they began using a cell phone.



Associated Press writer Penny Cockerell contributed to this report from Dallas.

AP-ES-11-24-03 2141EST



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