No area code crisis looms, expert says

A U.S. House subcommittee intends to look at the issue of "area code exhaustion" at a hearing next month. While telephone numbers longer than 10 digits will be eventually be needed once the three-digit area code combinations are exhausted, it isn't likely to happen for many years, said one official.

There are now 306 area codes in use out of a possible 800 combinations. The numbers one and zero aren't used to start an area code.

Under current projections, the remaining supply of unused area codes is a large enough to satisfy demand until after 2039, according to Ron Conners, director of the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA). Washington-based communications service provider NeuStar Inc. acts as the third-party administrator for NANPA under a Federal Communications Commission agreement.

There was some fear that the number of area codes could run out in a decade because of the increasing demand for additional numbers to serve wireless, home and business use. That prompted a series of conservation measures to slow the release of new telephone numbers. The area codes "could have [been] exhausted within 10 years if we had done nothing," said Conners.

"I don't think we need to panic. I think we need to implement these kinds of conservation techniques, and if we do that, I think we're going to be safe for quite some time," said Conners, who will be testifying before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet at its Sept. 7 hearing.

In 1947, there were only 86 area codes, and 61 were added during the next 50 years. But the rate increased dramatically in recent years. In 1997 alone, 32 new area codes were created. That increasing rate of area code usage, as well as the cost that would be imposed if the three-digit area codes were exhausted, worried the FCC, which has taken steps "to ensure that the limited numbering resources are used efficiently," it said in a report released in June.

Conservation measures include more efficient distribution of unused numbers to carriers.

The specter of 11- or 12-digit dialing may be in the future, but area code changes are still an issue. But the problem has become easier to address for enterprises, which have typically adapted their systems to handle frequent area code updates, said Mark Winther, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts. "I don't believe, from a typical enterprise perspective, that is a big issue anymore," he said.

But it can be an expensive problem for some businesses that don't have automated processes for changing area codes. That and other expenses, such as reprinting costs for corporate stationery, can add up. "Keypunch operators go bleary eyed when they've got large databases that have to be changed by hand," said Harry Henderson, an analyst at Information Technology Group in Chicago, a company that develops area code software.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Patrick Thibodeau

Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?