Whatever the outcome, you'll dial 10 numbers

Loujane Johns

If you are old enough, you may remember dialing a three digit phone number or a four digit number to reach your party. 

Now the Federal Communications Commission has advised the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) that the 315 area code is running out of numbers.  Two options have been proposed, but either way, users of phones, faxes and cell phones will have to dial a 10 digit number for every call. 

The change will not be made for some time, but the PSC is preparing now.

On May 8 representatives of the PSC held an educational forum to explain the options to the public and answer questions.  Following the informational session, the public was invited to give statements during a hearing in front of Administrative Law Judge William L. Bouteiller.  The proceedings were recorded by Court Reporter Pam Palomeque.

The audience was small and only two people went on record with statements.  Peg Thompson of Dundee said she thought the convergence of another area code through overlay would be too confusing.  She said Dundee already has the 607 code within Yates County.  The other speaker, a Verizon employee, said she thought changing existing numbers would inconvenience people having stationery and business cards.

Jeffrey Wagner, Utility Consumer Program Specialist with the PSC, began the presentation by saying the goal is to provide relief for the situation with the least possible disruption to people in Central and Northern New York. 

He said when you dial a 536 or 531 number, it goes to a central office and these offices are running out of numbers.  There are now only 100 area codes left.  By 2010 or 2011 none will be left. The three digit area code system was implemented in 1947 to permit people to make long distance calls without using an operator.  Until 1985 there were seven area codes in New York State, now there are 14.

“The 315 area code has been in place since the 1940’s.  It has lasted almost 60 years.  We have stretched and re-claimed numbers, but we know we will run out,” said Wagner.  He said the 315 area is very large, covering 18 counties.

Wagner described the two options under consideration. 

OVERLAY

The first involves an overlay.  A new area code would be superimposed over the entire region.  All existing customers would keep their current 315 area code and seven digit number.  New telephone numbers would be assigned either a 315 area code or a new area code.

The advantages include: avoids change for existing customers, can easily be repeated in the future as needed and spares thousands of wireless customers from having their equipment reprogrammed.  The disadvantage to overlay is that a 1 plus 10 digit dialing would be needed for all calls. The 911 and other three digit emergency numbers would remain.

GEOGRAPHIC?SPLIT

The second option is a geographic split. The 315 area code would be divided into two zones.  One zone would retain the 315 and the other would get a new area code. 

All existing customers would retain their current seven digit number.  As part of  consideration of this option, the PSC would decide which area would retain the 315. Within the split option, three different geographic splits are being considered, each dividing the area into two zones, with slight variations in boundaries.

Advantages to the geographic split would be  the retention of familiar identification between locale and its area code. People would continue to dial seven digits within their home area code.

On the negative side, approximately half of the currently assigned telephone numbers belonging to the estimated 1.5 million population, including businesses in the 315 area would be required to adopt a new area code. 

Those affected would have to notify others of the change and businesses would have to change advertising material.  The thousands of wireless customers in the zone receiving the new code would have to have cell phones and pagers reprogrammed.

Yates County Legislator Dr. Tim Dennis asked about other areas using overlay and their experience.  Wagner said large metropolitan areas such as New York City and Los Angles have been using overlays for some years with few problems. 

He said having several area codes is a little hard to get used to. 

For the first six to nine months there would be a permissive dialing period to allow people to get used to the change. 

Callers dialing the old area code will still get connected, but will hear a recording reminding them of the new area code.

Another audience member asked why the split couldn’t be done by counties.  He said Yates already has three different area codes.  Wagner said geographic locations are assigned to rate centers, which cannot be changed. 

He noted other counties are also split.  The cost of a call will not change in either option.

“If the solution was real clear, we wouldn’t be here.  All options have their advantages and disadvantages,” said Wagner.  The PSC representatives said this is why they are seeking public input by holding these meetings.

Thirteen meetings were scheduled throughout the affected area. Only four remain, concluding May 14 in Madison County.

Speaking to the press after the hearing, Bouteiller said he hopes there will be  additional public input when people read the news reports.

The comments collected will be turned over to the  commissioners who are expected to make a decision later this year, according to Bouteiller.  Then the North American Numbering Plan Administrator selects the new area code from the remaining supply.

Comments will be taken through May 23.  They can be made by mail to : Honorable Jaclyn Brilling, Secretary, NYS Public Service Commission, 3 Empire Plaza, Albany, NY, 12223 or by phone: Call toll-free 1-800-335-2120, Press “1” or through internet: www.AskPSC.com (complete the PSC comment form found under “Contact Us.”)