New '251' Area Code Debuts June 18 in Southwest Alabama

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama will get its fourth area code June 18 when the telecommunications industry launches a new 251 area code in the southwestern corner of the state.

The 251 code will be carved out of the existing 334 area. The communities it will serve include Bayou La Batre, Mobile, Jackson, Evergreen and Monroeville. (See related map online at www.nanpa.com)

Communities remaining in the 334 area code include Montgomery, Auburn, Dothan, Andalusia, Phenix City and Selma.

When the new area code is introduced June 18, there will be a six-month transition period in which calls will still go through if callers forget to dial the new area code. However, beginning Jan. 7, 2002, those who make a long-distance call into the southwestern portion of what is now the 334 area will be required to use the new 251 code.

The grace period provides customers changing to the new 251 area code time to notify friends, family and business associates of their new number. Also, people who call numbers changing to the new 251 area code will have time to reprogram automatic dialing equipment, alarm systems, computers that use dial-up Internet connections, and databases.

The change has no effect on rates or on local calling areas. The places that can be dialed locally now can be dialed locally after the introduction of the 251 area code.

A dwindling supply of telephone exchange codes in the 334 area code prompted the change. There are 756 useable exchange codes (first three digits of a phone number) in an area code. A single exchange contains as many as 10,000 telephone numbers.

The demand for phone numbers is sparked in large measure by the growing number of telecommunications companies competing for local phone service. These companies require a large supply of numbers to serve their customers. In addition, thousands of customers are now linked to the outside world through fax machines, pagers, cellular phones, modems and other communications devices that need phone numbers.

Area codes have traditionally had either a ''0'' or a ''1'' as a second digit. However, all of those codes are now used. Some businesses and other institutions may have to make modifications to their in-house switchboards to dial area codes that have another number as a second digit. Businesses that have a PBX (private branch exchange) built prior to 1992 should call their supplier to see if an upgrade is necessary.

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