August 28, 2017

New Area Codes Require New Dialing Habits

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 Historically, initiating a local telephone call has required one to dial only seven digits. Some readers may also recall a time long ago when all calls were completed using a live operator and the first two digits of the number to be called were indicated with a word, the first two letters of which corresponded with those numbers. For example, “BUtterfield 8” meant that the first three digits of a seven-digit local call were 2-8-8.  But beginning on February 7, 2015, all local calls within the 812 area must be placed using the full ten-digit telephone number. 

What’s the reason for this change in long-established dialing habits?  In a nutshell, we’re running out of telephone numbers.

Since the introduction of area codes – the first three digits of a ten-digit telephone number in the United States and Canada – phone numbers issued to customers in the southern 3rd of Indiana have begun with 812. That has changed, as well.

Issuing telephone numbers is the task of a little-known entity, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator.  The pool of telephone numbers in any given area code is finite, and in addition to issuing telephone numbers, NANPA also monitors the rate of depletion of the pool of available numbers.  As more new numbers in a given area code are issued, such as to cell phones and new businesses and residents, the closer that area code gets to running out of numbers.  As that occurs, NANPA creates a new area code which will be made available in some or all of the territory covered by the area code that is running out of numbers.  NANPA leaves to the state’s utility regulatory commission the task of sorting out how the new code is to be implemented.

Back in August, 2012, NANPA filed a petition at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC Cause No. 44233). That petition was the culmination of a planning process that had begun six years earlier and reflected the consensus recommendation of an industry group convened by NANPA to address the pending exhaustion of the supply of available telephone numbers in the 812 area. Among the choices that the IURC had to make was whether to split the 812 area geographically, allowing approximately half of the current customers to retain their existing telephone numbers beginning with 812 and forcing the other half to switch to a new area code, 930. The alternative recommended by the industry planning committee and ultimately endorsed by the IURC is known as an overlap plan. With an overlap plan, no one has to give up their existing ten-digit telephone number, but when a new number is issued in the 812 area instead of beginning with 812 that number will begin with 930. Thus, while you may have a number beginning with 812, your new neighbor across the street might have a number beginning with 930. Similarly, a business with an 812 number might get a new fax machine which would be assigned a 930 number.

The 812 / 930 area will be the first overlap area in Indiana. Among the significant features of an overlap plan is that everyone in that area loses the ability to make a local call using only seven digits. Note, however, that the protocol for making a long-distance call, typically beginning with a 1 followed by the area code and the remaining seven-digits, does not change. And you can still reach a public safety office by dialing 9-1-1 in an emergency.

Changing long-established habits is rarely easy. If it’s any solace, 812 is the final of Indiana’s three area codes (the other two being 317 for central Indiana and 219 for northern Indiana) to have to make a change.  Actually, prior to 1947 Indiana had just two area codes:  812 and 317. In that year, 317 was split, with the southern half (the central 3rd of Indiana) retaining 317, while the northern half of the previous 317 area (the northern 3rd of Indiana) was reassigned 219. Three area codes in the state remained the norm for a half century. The 317 area was shrunk again in 1997 to a core with Indianapolis at the center, and the surrounding areas that had previously retained 317 were re-designated as 765. Then in 2002 the 219 area was split into 3rds, with the western 3rd (including Gary) retaining 219 while numbers in the central 3rd (including South Bend) were re-designated 574 and the eastern 3rd (including Ft. Wayne) became 260.