Conservation may delay need for new area code for Northern Virginia

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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 overlay.
  • 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

The new Bell Atlantic - formed through the merger of Bell Atlantic and NYNEX - is at the forefront of the new communications, information and entertainment industry. With 40 million telephone access lines and 5.5 million wireless customers worldwide, Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-growth global communications markets, with operations and investments in 21 countries.


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