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News Release
 
Area Code Relief Spelled, "O-V-E-R-L-A-Y"
 
April 21, 1999 (1999-017)
 
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) today implemented a third area code for the state by ordering an overlay for most of the 503 area. An overlay covers the same territory as the old area code, but applies to only new numbers in the area.
 
The Commission chose to modify the overlay by excluding Clatsop and Tillamook counties on the coast because that area does not need a new area code because the area code change is being driven by phone number demand in the Portland metropolitan area.
 
Most customers won’t get numbers from the new area code until February, 2000, after the prefixes (the first three numbers of a 7-digit number) remaining in the 503 area are all assigned. The prefixes, not the numbers, are running out. Customers of existing companies in Oregon may receive 503 numbers for a year or more because many numbers from prefixes in the 503 area will still be available. Customers of companies new to Oregon after January 2000 will receive new area code numbers right away.
 
The Commission chose the modified overlay over two other options proposed by the North American Number Planning Administration (NANPA), a project management team selected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently handling about 50 area code additions across the country. A full overlay plan did not benefit the coastal area. A geographic split, dividing the city of Portland from the rest of the 503 area would have divided some cities, notably Gresham, into two area codes. It also would have necessitated that individuals and businesses in Portland change their stationery to accommodate the new area code.
 
Commission staff reported that in public meetings throughout the 503 area, many expressed an interest in a so-called ‘technology overlay,’ which would give the new area code to cell phones, fax machines, and pagers. The FCC, however, requires that area code changes be competitively neutral, and a federal court in Illinois rejected such a plan because it discriminated against companies making and selling these devices.
 
The first choice among customers who expressed a preference was to preserve 7-digit dialing, which would have required the Commission to split the 503 area into two geographic area codes, staff said. However, confusion between 7-digit and 10-digit dialing requirements convinced many that an overlay would serve them better in the long run.
Beginning July 11, a six-month period of "permissive dialing" will allow customers to make local calls using 10 digits if they want to. Beginning in February 2000, all local calls to or from the new area code, and all local calls to or from the 503 area code (excepting the coastal counties) will require 10-digit dialing.
 
Customers in the coastal counties will continue to dial seven digits for local calls, and as now, "1" + area code + number for all local-long distance and long distance calls.
 
Extrapolating from current growth and usage patterns, the new area code will last about eight years and the 503 area code for the coastal counties will last 15 years. The state last split its area code into 503 and 541 areas in 1995.
 
The permissive dialing period, from July 1999 to February 2000, will be particularly useful for owners of alarm companies and PBX systems, both of which will have to be re-programmed to reflect the new 10-digit dialing.
 
"The new area code is an unavoidable inconvenience and there is no perfect option to choose from." Commission Chairman Ron Eachus said. "We have to take into account not only the short term impacts but longer term implications as well. If we’d have done the geographic split, it would have divided some cities like Gresham and been harder to accommodate the next are code change."
 
NANPA is expected to designate the new area code number within 10 days.
 
 
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