Big changes are coming this fall for telephone users based in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania.
Ten-digit dialing for all owners of a telephone number in the 570 area code will begin Sept. 21. A month later, a new 272 area code will be rolled out in the region.
Starting Sept. 21, if a caller dials only the seven-digit telephone number, he or she will hear a recorded announcement stating they must hang up and redial the number using the area code plus the seven-digit number. This recording will be available permanently.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission announced the mandatory changes on Thursday, the culmination of a nearly three-year old plan that was approved July 15, 2010 by the commission when it was informed that numbers in the 570 area code were running low.
After consideration of public input and area code relief options, the commission approved an overlay plan for the 570 code.
An overlay plan means that once the existing telephone numbers in the 570 area code are exhausted, new telephone services in that geographic region will be assigned telephone numbers with the new area code, which has been designated as 272. The geographic region includes all or parts of 29 counties stretching from the Harrisburg area in the south to the Poconos in the east, the New York state line in the north and Clinton County in the west.
The original intent was to roll out the new 272 area code in the summer of 2011, but the implementation was held off for two years.
Denise McCracken, a PUC spokeswoman, said the commission had two choices when it came to the area code situation. It could have split the current 570 region geographically and forced half the region to change area codes or it could just require new phone numbers after a set date to have the 272 area code.
The latter option was chosen, she said, because it impacts few people.
The 570 area code was established in 1998 after phone numbers were exhausted in the 717 area code that had served a large swath of Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania.
With the same situation on the horizon for the 570 area code, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator informed the state PUC of the plan in 2010 to add the 272 area code as an overlay. North American Numbering Plan Administrator is the neutral, third-party, area code relief planner for Pennsylvania.
An overlay will mean that it’s possible to have one area code for a home phone and another for a cellphone. Neighbors would have to dial 10 numbers whether they’re calling each other or relatives in Alaska.
Overlays have become more widely used over the past decade and already exist elsewhere in the state.
In the Philadelphia area, 484 has been assigned within the 610 area code since 1999, and 267 has been distributed within the 215 area code since 1997. In Western Pennsylvania, the 878 area code soon will be issued in regions now served by the 412 and 724 area codes.
Bill Moore, the head of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber, said the switch will be a minor inconvenience but it will not cost companies any business.
“If this were 1980, I’d say it’s complicated, but now it’s commonplace,” Moore said. He came to this area from Connecticut, where 10-digit dialing has been mandated statewide since 2009.
“Businesses have the area code on letterhead and business cards, so it won’t be much of a difference to them,” Moore said. For new businesses, the costs of printing materials with the phone number would have been a necessary cost anyway.
In an age of cellphones, he said, 10-digit dialing is becoming the norm; and while it might be a small inconvenience, experience has shown him that people will adapt quickly.