Conservation May Delay Need For New Area Code For Northern Virginia

Conservation May Delay Need For New Area Code For Northern Virginia

SCC Has More Time to Consider Merits of 'Overlay'

October 24, 1997

Media contacts:

Paul Miller


RICHMOND, Va. -- Steps to conserve the supply of phone numbers in

northern Virginia's '703' area code could delay the need for a new

code and buy more time for the Virginia State Corporation Commission

(SCC) to decide what type of area code relief should be used.

That's what Bell Atlantic told the SCC in a filing today.

Bell Atlantic urged the three-member panel to postpone its decision

indefinitely on the area code relief question and to conduct a study

on ways to keep the current supply of telephone numbers from being

used up so quickly. New conservation measures by phone companies in

northern Virginia could delay the need for a new area code by at least

several years.

Telephone numbers have historically been geographically-based and

assigned according to which central office (or switching center)

provides service to that number. This means that phone companies and

paging companies get blocks of 10,000 numbers even if they need only

1,000 or even 100 numbers.

Long-term Local Number Portability (LNP), a new technology, expected to be introduced in northern Virginia next spring, will provide the future architecture that will ultimately permit "1000 block number pooling", which is the assignment of numbers in blocks of 1,000 numbers, thereby conserving the availability of telephone numbers.

In addition, Bell Atlantic noted that growth in telephone exchanges in

northern Virginia has not been as great as earlier predicted. The

need for more phone numbers has increased dramatically due to the

explosion in use of pagers, cellular phones, fax machines and modems.

The telephone industry had predicted telephone exchanges (the first

three digits of a seven-digit phone number) would be depleted in

northern Virginia in late 1999. That forecast was based on the

assumption that the area would require 105 new exchanges a year.

Growth, as it turns out, has been less than expected. Based on

current usage, only 85 new exchanges are needed this year. If that

trend continues, and without any form of number pooling, a new area

code would not be needed until the third quarter of the year 2000.

Number pooling, however, could extend the life of the 703 area code

for several more years.

When the numbers ultimately begin to run out, the SCC will need to

choose between two area code relief options:

  • A geographic split, dividing the current 703 area into two and

    putting roughly 1.4 million phone numbers into the new area code.

  • An overlay, an approach adopted recently in Maryland.

A new overlay area code would follow the same boundaries of the 703

code. When all phone numbers in the 703 area are used up, new phone

numbers in the same area would use the new area code. Existing

customers in the 703 area would keep their same phone numbers under

the overlay plan.

Bell Atlantic favors the overlay approach because it would be less

disruptive to customers. But, the company reiterated in its filing,

there is no need for the SCC to decide on the matter now.

The overlay area code makes sense, Bell Atlantic told the commission,

for the following reasons:

  • The "area" in area code is gone - A geographic split would cause

    area codes to become so small that customers would no longer be

    able to distinguish what area the code represents. A geographic

    split in northern Virginia would cause the city of Alexandria and

    Arlington and Fairfax Counties to have two separate area codes

    within their boundaries.

  • 10-digit, local dialing is inevitable - 10-digit local dialing

    will be commonplace, regardless of which area code method is

    adopted. An overlay area code would require 10-digit dialing for

    local calls throughout northern Virginia. A geographic split

    would require 10-digit dialing across the boundaries of the new

    area code (for example, Falls Church to most of Alexandria.).

    There's already extensive 10-digit dialing today for local calls

    between northern Virginia, the District of Columbia and the

    Maryland suburbs.

  • Reprogramming of telecommunications equipment can't be avoided -

    Because a geographic split would result in extensive 10-digit,

    local dialing across boundaries, customers' telecommunications

    equipment would have to be reprogrammed, just as it would with an


  • Reprinting stationery -- Business cards and stationery for

    thousands of businesses would have to be reprinted with a

    geographic split. With an overlay, all customers keep their

    existing phone number.

  • Growing number of localities favor overlay - Overlay area codes

    are being implemented in Maryland in both the 301 and 410 areas;

    overlay codes will also be used in Atlanta and Denver; regulators

    in New York endorsed overlay area codes for the 212 and 718 areas

    of New York City; the Texas Public Utilities Commission

    recommended three overlay area codes for Dallas, and a hearing

    examiner in Illinois has recommended an overlay area code for

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