Friday, December 10, 1999

PUCO weighing area code options


513 facing digit squeeze

BY MIKE BOYER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a move to conserve Ohio's dwindling supply of telephone numbers, state regulators Thursday ordered a series of steps including possibly assigning numbers to telephone companies in smaller blocks.

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        Telephone companies are now assigned numbers — given to residential and commercial users — in blocks of 10,000. However, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Thursday ordered its staff to consider assigning numbers in smaller groups of 1,000.

        “We have more than 40 telephone companies in Ohio now, and whether they're big or small, each gets numbers in blocks of 10,000, even if they have fewer than 10,000 customers,” said Beth Gianforcaro, PUCO spokeswoman.

        While it may free more numbers to be assigned, Thursday's move is unlikely to postpone the projected depletion of numbers in the 513 area code sometime in early 2002, she said.

        “These steps will help, but they're unlikely to prevent the exhaustion of area code numbers,” Ms. Gianforcaro said.

        A task force of PUCO staff and representatives of the local service providers in the 513 area code recently proposed two options to solve the problem:

        • A geographic split of the current area code and the introduction of a new one. One code would be used in most of Hamilton County and the second could include most of Butler, Warren and Clermont counties. There's been no decision on which area would get 513.

        • A solution, favored by Cincinnati Bell Telephone, called an “overlay.” Basically, when all the numbers in the 513 area code are exhausted, any new numbers — even those to the same home or business or in the same neighborhood — would be assigned the new area code. The result: 10-digit dialing, even on the same street.

        “We feel the overlay is less confusing and cumbersome to our customers,” said Tressie Long at Cincinnati Bell.

        The commission will hold public hearings on the proposals early next year and make a final decision by midyear.

        Area code worries are not limited to Ohio. Home computers, fax machines, cell phones, pager, point-of-sale terminals,ATMs and lottery machines all need phone lines.

        In Kentucky, the state's Public Service Commission plans to slap a new area code, 859, in Northern Kentucky and Lexington while keeping the 606 area code in eastern Kentucky. The change would come next year.

        What all this means to consumers: Seven-digit dialing between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky will be impossible.

       



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