Fed Targets Cell Providers

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Cell phone companies are blanketing the market with price cuts, extra minutes, premium services and sleek handsets to lure customers from rivals and make sure their own subscribers don't bolt come Monday.

That is when new federal rules will begin that allow legions of dissatisfied customers and bargain-hunters to switch wireless companies without losing their cell numbers.

Wireless phone companies tried hard to block the rule from taking effect, but are trying to make the best of it now that it is here, baiting customers with some of the most generous deals ever.

They are offering more minutes and cheaper rates, camera phones and other cutting-edge handsets, as well as enhanced features such as faster Internet connections and walkie-talkie services.

T-Mobile, for example, expanded its free weekend calling feature to include all day Friday, the busiest calling day of the week. Sprint and Cingular have offered to roll back the start time for off-peak calling from 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.