Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday 10-17

The state Public Service Commission holds a hearing in Oshkosh today on plans to add a new area code to the Fox Valley. The PSC says we will "run out" of phone numbers to use in this area by the end of the decade--and they need to open up more numbers by using the new area code.

It's amazing what a sensative issue this is for people. I lived in the Twin Cities when they had to split into different area codes. You would have thought they were annexing St. Paul into Canada the way some people reacted. And remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine changed her phone number and ended up with a new area code--so no one wanted to call her anymore?

First of all, we are not "running out" of numbers. Just do the math. With seven digits in every phone number (minus prefixes you can't use like 911 or anything starting with zero or one) you still have more than SEVEN MILLION permutations. That is at least three numbers for each and every person and business in the area.

The real problem is cell phone and internet providers--who have tied up hundreds of thousands of numbers they hope to someday assigne to customers. Force those companies to give up their numbers and we would have several more years worth of numbers.

Anyway, I doubt the PSC would do that so let's look at the alternatives. The first is breaking up the current 920 area code. This is my preferred option. Businesses will complain the most--as their business cards, letterhead and receipts all become obsolete. And I think it should be the eastern half of the current area code that should have to change. Let Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago counties keep their area code--everybody else...tough beans. This is where the majority of people in the area code live and that's the way democracy works.

The other (less attractive) option is the area code overlay. In this scenario, the new area code is used for new numbers within the old area code. While it may sound attractive--everyone keeps their current number--it creates dialing nightmares for the rest of time. Imaging the person living down the street having a different area code than you. Every time you call somewhere--even right here in town--you have to remember if they are 920 or 363? The only person who wins in this option is the woman who records the "you must first dial a one and an area code before making this call" message.

I encourage you to attend tonight's hearing at City Hall and let them know what you prefer in person. Odds are you won't be able to figure out the area code to call the PSC in the future.

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