Mobile Phone News

Carriers Tire Of Playing Jeopardy With Allocation Of Phone Numbers

Carriers Tire Of Playing Jeopardy With Allocation Of Phone Numbers

The FCC’s clock is ticking on its consideration of how telecom carriers can increase their efficiency in using telephone numbers, but states as well as consumers and carriers already hear the clock’s alarm.

“We’re going to be at exhaust soon if some of the states don’t make decisions,” says Dan Mullin, Bell Atlantic Mobile’s [BEL] staff director of government relations.

Decisions by states on telephone number supply are limited to adding new area codes, or expanding the boundaries in which central office codes, blocks of 10,000 numbers, can be used.

New area codes are made by splitting existing ones, or by overlaying new codes over existing areas. Split area codes force businesses to change letterheads and consumers to remember new numbers. Overlay codes force 10-digit dialing for all local calls.

Expanding central office code boundaries allows carriers to assign numbers from blocks of 10,000 over a larger area. However, stretching those boundaries turns many calls made to numbers with the same prefix into toll calls.

The FCC could give states additional latitude in their number decisions. But that decision won’t come until late this year, or early next year.

And that could be too late in some areas. New area codes or other relief measures take a year to 15 months to implement.

The North American Numbering Plan Administration says more than 60 area codes around the country are in “jeopardy.” The supply of numbers may not last in jeopardy areas before new area codes are added.

In jeopardy areas, central office codes are rationed. Wireless operators and other carriers must wait for their names to be drawn in monthly lotteries to receive additional number blocks. Three blocks are being allotted monthly in jeopardy areas.

If a carrier’s name isn’t drawn this month in a rationing area, that company must wait until next month for another chance at more numbers. However, all carriers needing numbers must receive one block before any can receive its second.

Much of Bedminster, N.J.-based Bell Atlantic Mobile’s network is in jeopardy areas. And only one of those areas, Northern Virginia’s 703 code, has relief in sight, Mullin says.

Virginia officials decided to overlay the 521 code over the 703 area starting in March next year.

In Connecticut, officials have proposed adding an overlay code over each of the state’s two existing area codes. Connecticut has changed its stance on establishing a wireless-only area code. That code would be used exclusively for wireless phones and pagers.

“It’s competition that is doing this now,” says Beryl Lyons, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control. “It’s not just the use of cell phones.”

Since the commission allowed the 917 wireless-only area code in New York City in 1995, it has denied subsequent requests for other markets. But area codes reserved for a single technology were on the menu when the FCC began considering number conservation measures in May.

It’s clear to wireless players that other solutions will be more effective. But they would be hog tied if states establish their own numbering rules.

“There just has got to be a national standard, it’s imperative,” Mullin adds.

The FCC also is considering proposals including “number pooling,” doling out numbers in blocks of 1,000 instead of 10,000. “Most carriers today use significantly less than 50 percent of the numbers allocated to them,” according to the proposal.

Also, the commission proposed setting goals that carriers must meet in their usage of numbers and allowing them to decide how to meet the goals.

Carriers could pay for numbering resources, prompting more conservative usage, under another proposal the commission is considering.

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