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News Release
Commission Approves Area Code Relief Effort
February 9, 1999 (1999-010)
Contacts: Ron Eachus, Chairman, 503 378-6611; Roger Hamilton, Commissioner 503 378-6611; Joan H. Smith, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Ron Karten, Public Information Officer, 503 378-8962
Salem, Ore. – The Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) has opened an investigation that will determine how to give the northwest corner of the state a new area code by July 11, 1999.
In 1995, the Commission approved a plan to split the state’s single area code, then 503, into two area codes. The northwest corner of the state, including Portland and Salem, kept the 503 area code, and the rest of the state received the 541 area code.
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At the beginning of February, the 503 area code had 125 unassigned prefixes, which if used at the rate of four/month as recommended by the Commission, leaves Oregon with more than a two-year supply of telephone numbers. However, the industry is seeking faster use of the remaining exchanges and the different options may require different lead times.
A plan being designed by the North American Numbering Planning Administration (NANPA) is considering two scenarios: a split, dividing the 503 area code into two geographic areas – the city of Portland, and the rest of the 503 area; and an overlay, which would give the new area code to new phone numbers only.
"There is no easy way to divide the 503 area code this time," said Commission Chairman Ron Eachus. "In 1995, when 503 covered the whole state, splitting off the northwest corner made sense. This time, both choices are messy."
To be certain that the new area code is in place at the time the exchanges are exhausted, the industry favors implementing a six-month permissive dialing period beginning July 11, 1999, and a final activation date for the new area code on January 30, 2000.
During the permissive dialing period, customers will be able to acclimate themselves to the new area code by dialing phone numbers as they are today or as they will be when the new area code process is finished.
The principle advantage of the overlay is that no current customers will have to make changes in either their phone numbers or their stationery.
Among drawbacks, the new area code will not have a relationship with any particular geographic area and, in addition, all calls will immediately be 10-digit calls.
The split option has the advantage of maintaining the area codes’ geographic relationship. It also allows some of those affected to continue using 7-digit dialing for local calls.
The drawbacks of the split are that half of those affected will have to order new stationery, and that local calls from one area code to the other will require full 10-digit dialing. Local calls within the split area code will require only 7-digit dialing. Confusion will reign over which calls are 7-digit and which are 10-digit. In addition, the Commission anticipates that another area code will be needed in less than a decade, and at that time, all calls may become 10-digit calls.
The Commission will hold public hearings throughout the affected area, including metropolitan Portland and the coast. The investigation will be both a period of collecting information and opinions from those in the affected area, and a time to educate the public about the different options.