Yesterday, Verizon converted the last of its telephone switches to handle 10-digit dialing. In all, the company successfully reprogrammed nearly 450 switches in the 412 and 724 area codes during a phase-in period that began July 12.
''For Verizon and its customers, the conversion was nearly perfect,'' said Dorothy Bruzek, Verizon manager for area code customer education in Pennsylvania. ''Everyone experienced a small learning curve, but seemed to adapt very quickly to the new way of dialing.''
To prepare its customers for 10-digit dialing, Verizon advised them to reprogram telephone equipment or services that automatically dial phone numbers, like speed dialers, fax machines and computer modems.
''In some cases customers overlooked a few of the not-so-obvious things, like call forwarding or voice mail systems,'' said Bruzek. ''However, once they identified and updated those services, any dialing difficulties disappeared.''
Since July 12, Verizon customers who have forgotten to dial 10 digits for calls within and between the 412 and 724 area codes have been hearing this message: ''Due to area code changes, it is now necessary to dial the area code followed by a seven-digit number. Please re-dial using the complete 10-digit number.''
Ten-digit dialing became necessary to prepare telephone customers in the 412 and 724 area codes for activation of the region's newest area code, 878, on Aug. 17.
The new area code is an overlay and will serve the same geographic areas as 412 and 724. The telecommunications industry recommended an overlay be implemented in Western Pennsylvania to eliminate the need to further carve the region's area codes into even smaller sections.
On Aug. 17, customers who request new service, an additional line or, in some cases, move their service to another address, may be assigned a number in the new area code, depending on the availability of numbers in the existing 412 and 724 area codes. Because 878 is an overlay, two different customers in the same geographic region could have the same seven-digit telephone number but a different area code. The Federal Communications Commission requires 10-digit dialing with area code overlays.
The primary reason behind Pennsylvania's number shortage is the rapid growth of competition for local phone service in the Commonwealth. More than 90 Verizon competitors serve one million phone lines in the state and require phone numbers for current and future customers. Competitors, as well as Verizon, currently receive numbers in blocks of 10,000. This distribution method causes area codes to quickly run out of numbers.
In addition, the popularity of cellular phones, pagers, computer modems and fax machines has contributed to the shortage of telephone numbers.
An area code includes approximately 7.92 million numbers, or 792 blocks of 10,000 numbers. When a telecommunications provider needs numbers for its customers, it receives a block of 10,000 numbers. Once assigned, those numbers cannot be given to other carriers, even if they are not being used. As a result, an area code can be theoretically exhausted if all 792 blocks of numbers have been assigned.
State and federal regulators have reviewed several number conservation methods to slow the proliferation of area codes. In May, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission announced plans to implement a number-pooling trial in Western Pennsylvania in October. This trial will mandate that carriers donate their unused telephone numbers to a pool from which available numbers will be re-distributed in blocks of 1,000 instead of 10,000. A similar number-pooling trial has been implemented in the 610 and 484 area codes in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
''The trial's goal is to determine the most efficient way to distribute numbers,'' said Bruzek. ''Pooling has the potential to significantly slow down the depletion of telephone numbers and extend the life of existing area codes.''
Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 112 million access line equivalents and 27 million wireless customers. Verizon is also the largest directory publisher in the world. A Fortune 10 company with approximately 260,000 employees and more than $65 billion in annual revenues, Verizon's global presence extends to 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com