Area codes to change in CT

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On Saturday it will become mandatory to dial the three-digit area code and the seven-digit phone number for any local call in Connecticut whether on a landline, an Internet-connected phone or a cell phone.

Want to call your next-door neighbor? You’ll have to dial 10 numbers. Want to call your teenager’s cell phone? Dial 10 digits.

For Internet users or businesses, that also means reprogramming numbers stored in computer dialing programs or fax machines to include the area code for local calls.

Toll calls and out-of-state calls will still require dialing the number 1 plus the area code and the number.

You most likely don’t remember it, but the state Department of Public Utility Control announced back in March that the change to 10-digit dialing was coming. It is necessary, regulators said, because the state’s two current area codes, 203 in New Haven and Fairfield counties, and 860 everywhere else are running out of numbers.

According to the DPUC and the North American Numbering Plan Administration, or NANPA, which assigns area codes, the 203 area code is expected to run out of numbers next year, while the 860 area code, created in March 1995, is expected to run out of numbers in 2011.

Connecticut and other states, along with the Federal Communications Commission and the telephone industry, have used technology to extend the life of existing area codes for more than a decade, but the need for new numbers has become overwhelming because of the explosive growth in cell phones, pagers, laptop computers, fax machines, modems and other telecommunications devices.

In addition, as more companies such as cable television and Internet service providers enter the telephone market, the need for additional numbers increases.

In anticipation of the numbers running out, regulators in 1999 decided not to further divide the state geographically for new area codes. Instead, the new codes will be laid over the existing codes. When the 203 area code runs out, new phones in New Haven and Fairfield counties will be issued the area code 475. Everywhere else in the state, when the 860 numbers run out, new phones will be issued the area code 959.

Officially, the new 475 area code can be assigned beginning Dec. 12, the DPUC said. No date has yet been set for beginning to assign the 959 area code.

Area codes for existing phones will not change; the new codes will apply only to new phones added after the existing codes run out. That means, eventually, next-door neighbors could have different area codes. Because of that, 10-digit dialing is required.

“It’s something that folks are just going to have to get used to,” said Adam Cormier, spokesman for AT&T Connecticut. “It’s a trend across the country. Those coming into Connecticut from another state are probably already used to this type of behavior.”

In fact, according to NANPA, dialing 10 digits to make a local call was mandatory in part or all of 17 states and Puerto Rico last year, including in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. That’s up from 10 states in 2000.

In addition to Connecticut, 12 other states are adding area codes: Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.

According to the DPUC, about 40 percent of the state’s telephone lines already require dialing 10 numbers for local calls between the 203 and 860 area codes. No toll charges apply to these calls.

While dialing the extra digits will eventually become habit, homeowners and businesses with numbers programmed into a variety of devices will need to update those numbers to include the area code, the DPUC said.

“Some examples are life safety systems, fax machines, Internet dial-up numbers, alarm and security systems, gates, speed dialers, mobile phone contact lists, call forwarding settings, voicemail services and similar functions,” the DPUC states on its Web site.

Regulators also suggest checking business cards and stationery, advertising and promotional materials, personal checks, and your personal ID or pet ID tags to ensure the area code is included in listed phone numbers.

Calls to services such as Infoline at 211 and emergency calls to 911 will not be affected.

After Nov. 14, anyone who dials a local call whether on a landline, an Internet phone service or a cell phone without dialing the area code will receive an automated message to remind them, said Phil Dukes, a DPUC spokesman.

Dukes said the state did not set aside money for a promotional campaign to remind everyone of the change to 10-digit dialing, but the DPUC will work through the media to get the word out.

Cormier said AT&T has been including an insert with its bills to alert customers to the change.

“We’ve been working with the DPUC on this to try to get our customers ready,” he said. “Hopefully, Nov. 14 comes and goes without a hitch.”