For years, many companies providing cellphone service haven't let people keep their numbers when they switch to a different company.

Consumer groups say it's a big hassle. People who switch have to let all their friends and contacts know they've changed numbers.

Now, a federal agency has given phone companies a deadline for making "number portability" happen.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission's ruling means SaskTel, Rogers and other wireless companies, will have until March 14, 2007 to release numbers to their customers who want to switch.

"Consumers should be given the widest possible choice of service providers and should be able to switch telephone companies without unwarranted cost or inconvenience," said CRTC chairman Charles Dalfen.

SaskTel vice-president of legal and regulatory affairs John Meldrum said the change will cost the provincially owned company $4 million to $5 million to implement.

"We're going to do our best to make sure we can meet this date," Meldrum said.