PITTSBURGH - Callers in western Pennsylvania must soon dial a ''perfect 10'' -- 10 digits, that is -- to complete their local phone calls. On July 12, the area code will become part of the telephone number for all Pennsylvanians in the 412 and 724 area codes, making every number a ''Ten-number Numbersm.''
The new way of dialing is necessary to prepare the region's phone customers for the August introduction of the newest area code in western Pennsylvania - 878. Called an ''overlay,'' the new code will serve the same geographic boundaries as the current 412 and 724 codes. The 878 overlay will eliminate the need to split the existing area codes into smaller areas.
''An overlay minimizes disruption for current phone customers because existing phone numbers in the 412 and 724 area codes will not change,'' said Dorothy Bruzek, Verizon manager for area code customer education in Pennsylvania. ''But it's now important for customers to always dial the Ten-number Number when they make calls within or between the three area codes.''
Since last July, customers in the 412 and 724 area codes have been able to dial either seven or 10 digits to complete their calls. This transition period has given customers nearly a year to become accustomed to the new dialing patterns. However, starting July 12 if callers forget to dial 10 digits for calls within and between the 412 and 724 area codes, they will hear a message instructing them to dial both the area code and seven-digit telephone number.
Customers who haven't already done so will need to reprogram any automatic dialing equipment or services that are programmed to dial a seven-digit number. This includes speed dialers, security systems, fax machines and computer modems. Business customers should also check with their telecommunications vendors to ensure their telephone systems are reprogrammed to handle 10-digit dialing.
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. The addition of the 878 area code will not change local calling areas for customers, dialing 911, or telephone rates. A local call will still be a local call even with 10-digit dialing and the new area code in effect.
Last year, Verizon launched an extensive customer education campaign to encourage everyone to dial the Ten-number Number, enlisting the help of its employees to spread the word about the new way of dialing.
''Our goal is to minimize confusion for our customers to make the transition to the Ten-number Number as easy as possible,'' said Bruzek. ''We mailed letters to businesses and alarm companies, included inserts in customers' bills, conducted forums with seniors and community groups and placed ads in local publications.''
During the last school year, Verizon distributed more than 85,000 coloring books to all kindergarten through fourth-grade classrooms in western Pennsylvania to help children get ready for the Ten-number Number change. The company also included 10-digit dialing instructions in its new telephone directories.
Mounting competition for local phone service has driven the need for new area codes, as Pennsylvanians increasingly have a choice of which company provides their local phone service. Currently, Verizon competitors serve one million phone lines in the state and they need phone numbers for their current and future customers. In addition, the tremendous growth in use of cellular phones, pagers, computer modems and fax machines has increased the need for numbers.
The 724 area code was created in western Pennsylvania in 1998 to meet that growing demand, but now more numbers are needed.
Area code issues are managed by NeuStar, Inc., which was selected by the Federal Communications Commission to oversee the assignment of area codes, three-digit central office codes (the first three digits of a seven-digit phone number) and other number resources throughout the United States, Canada, Bermuda and 16 Caribbean countries.
Pennsylvanians can get more information on the dialing changes and the new 878 area code by calling Verizon's toll-free Area Code Information Line at 1-800-500-2167, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They also can visit the company's Web site at www.verizon.com/support/areacode.html
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