814 Meeting Draws Crowd with One Goal

DUBOIS – A group of businesspeople, government officials, and public citizens gathered to share knowledge and opinions on the upcoming area code change.

Nearly all that spoke were unified in that they did not like that they were chosen to be removed from the 814 area code in favor of the new 582 area code.  Nancy Micks of the Greater DuBois Chamber of Commerce, lead the public forum in preparation to share information before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s official meeting later this year.  The town hall was co-sponsored with Taxpayers United for Representation Now, TURN.

The reason for this change follows:  Neustar, Inc. is the organization assigning blocks of telephone numbers to relevant groups.  The Pennsylvania Utility Commission was notified by Neustar that at current rate of consumption there will be no more 814 telephone numbers available.  Because of this, PUC will be given a new area code worth of numbers to use as it sees fit to prevent the exhaustion of telephone numbers.  The projected end of available phone numbers will come early 2013 giving the area around a year to begin a transition.

According to those who spoke to PUC representatives, after low attendance at public hearings PUC had decided to go with a geographic split of the 814 area code.  The area code stretches from the North East corner of the state down to the Maryland border.  The split was draw along phone exchanges that crudely follow county lines, but ended up splitting Clearfield and Elk Counties.  If nothing changes Sandy Township and DuBois will be moved to the new area code with the northwest section of the 814 area code.  Clearfield and the eastern section will experience no change.  Indiana, already split into multiple area codes will further split into more pieces.

Taxpayers United for Representation Now managed to get enough petitions to convince PUC to reconsider their decision.  TURN Director John Balliet presented the information TURN had gathered and possible solutions to the 814 relief need.  Using a 2009 study, Balliet stated that 25 percent of phones in the U.S. are still landlines, and further information from PUC showing a 23 percent drop in landline use.

Concerns about the area code change tended to be grouped around two basic issues confusion about learning a new number, direct and indirect cost of changing the phone number.

One concern is the changing culture brought up by several audience members.  One side of the culture change are those who have spent decades dialing only seven of the ten digit telephone numbers may have to adapt to remembering another three digits for certain parts of the county, and which parts of the counties.  One person in particular mentioned he shares the same last four digits of a phone number of a pizza parlor whose prefix in DuBois is the new 375 prefix, and that he constantly receives calls wanting to place orders at his 371 number.  No one present knew for how long the former 814 numbers would remain reserved other than for at least six months, but any number forced under the new area code will be available to a new owner.

Others brought up that telephone numbers, especially with smart phones, are becoming an id number that is linked to a name you pick on your contact list.  For most of the speakers changing their telephone number came with similar connotations as suddenly changing their names or their business names.  Individuals and businesses would have to change and notify relevant parties and groups that their phone numbers are changing.  One businessperson noted that his business has contacts with, and is dependent on, said contacts ranging to businesses in Russia to the local Amish, and stated a forced number change would likely force him to close his own business.

On the cost end new business cards, labels, advertisements, labels on merchandise, etc. were mentioned.  In the confusion the potential for lost customers who may not be in the area and aware of the area code change.

Despite nobody wanting to make this change it is a change that has to occur.  There is a limit to the phone numbers for the 814 area code.  More phone numbers are needed.  The upcoming PUC public hearings will try to come up with a solution.  There are other solutions proposed than the geographic split.

Technology specific overlay where cellphones, or just new cellphones, are forced onto the new area code, but landlines get to keep 814 area code.  This option based off of information provided at the town hall may be available in the future, but only has precedent as a temporary solution currently.  PUC governs landlines in Pennsylvania, but the Federal Communications Commission regulates cellphones.

Geographic overlay proposes using the new area code for all of the 814 area.  Once the 814 phone numbers are used up the numbers under the new area code will be handed out.  This would mean existing phone numbers would be untouched and everyone will have to learn and use the new area code.  Also as homes and businesses expand multiple area codes will be present in said homes and businesses.

A modified geographic split was proposed where the cut off would be drawn to keep the counties grouped together instead of splitting some of the counties.  Many would be forced to adopt the new area code, but a person would now be able to know what area code to use when calling a person in a specific county.

There was the suggestion to tie each county to a unique area code to prevent the need of such a change to happen again in the future.  Area codes are only three digits long meaning there are only 999 available.  There are over three thousand counties in the United States.  Either Pennsylvania would require a disproportionate amount of area codes for this to work or the phone number format would need to drastically change to fairly allot them to the country similar to the IP4v to IP6v transition going on with the Internet.

The PUC hearing is expected to be held in April or May.

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