Investigating the Zombie Phone Line Ecosystem

I’ve taken on a whole new interest today, as you can see, in the subterranean ‘zombie phone line’ ecosystem. So I was fascinated to get this email from TPM Reader JK …

I work for a small CLEC in [state redacted] and we deal with this type of thing commonly. When you port a number from one carrier to another, it is automatically cancelled from the losing carrier. However, if there are any lines on an account that are not ported, then unless the customer explicitly cancels the lines with the old carrier, they will continue to a) be available and in service even if they are unused, and b) fully billable.

Whenever we pick up a new customer we tell them – any left over lines at the old carrier will have to be explicitly disconnected with the old carrier.

Whenever we lose a customer, we let them know if there are any remaining lines on their account that they are still responsible for unless they tell us to cancel them.

So the key question for you and Verizon is – did you explicitly cancel the remaining lines, or were you just expecting that since all the other numbers had been ported away, the account as a whole was closed?

To answer the question, yes. When we terminated our account with Verizon we contacted Verizon and clearly and explicitly canceled all our business phone line services with them and the entire account. We did not simply port some numbers and figure they’d get the message that we just weren’t that into them.

In my reply to JK I mentioned this specific point: According to Verizon, the entire account was canceled. This is not in dispute. Their argument is that since after we canceled our account two number didn’t find a new home, they came back to life. So post-cancelation, they were – not to be sacrilegious, but – reborn. Or in the words of Verizon, they “regenerated” themselves and set up entirely distinct new accounts which they assigned to us without telling us.

This seems like an entirely different set of facts from what JK describes and by definition totally ridiculous. But then again, before they got to this claim they said that these two lines were “government mandated emergency phone lines.” Having said that, it does appear that there is an entire ecology of Zombie Phone Lines I was not heretofore aware of.