Friday, November 12, 2010

What's your number?

Northeast Wisconsin can rest easy for another two years....the Public Service Commission has decided to delay implementation of a new area code for the region until 2014.  The original plan was to put in place what's called an "overlay" area code of (274) for new numbers issued starting in 2012.  That would have meant a person moving to a new house and getting a new land line would have had a different area code than the rest of the neighborhood--or that if you changed cell providers, you could end up with a different area code than all your friends.

My beef is that we haven't really run out of numbers in the (920).  Our problem comes from cell providers buying up huge blocks of numbers to issue to customers--many of which don't actually get assigned.  According to the US census, there are 1.2 million people living in the (920) area code.  According to the PSC, there are 707 "exchanges" or prefixes--with 9,999 numbers available in each one.  That means there are just over seven million possible phone numbers in the (920).  That equals six numbers for every man, woman and child in Northeast Wisconsin.  And given the declining number of people with land lines, the turnover of numbers is on the increase.

I lived in the Twin Cities at the time Minneapolis and St Paul were divided into separate area codes in the mid 1990's.  You would have thought that Ramsey County was seceeding from the United States and joining Canada the way people reacted.  "How will we remember three more numbers?" and "It's going to be long distance to call across town?" were the most common reactions.  Just think if it had been an overlay and their cell phone had a different area code from their house phone.  Husbands would have been too afraid to call their wives from the grocery store to see if they have enough milk for the rest of the week.  And let's not forget the potential for repetitive motion injury from having to press three more buttons every time you make a call.

All of that being said, I can live with the PSC plan.  I now store all numbers in my cell phone with the area code included--so I can call those people from anywhere and not have to punch in the extra digits.  An overlay also saves businesses money--by not requiring them to change stationery and business cards to account for the new number.  The biggest problem will be getting someone's number in a setting where you can't write it down or enter it into your cell phone right away.  I struggle to remember numbers as I hear them--so I use a mental trick:  famous sports jersey numbers.  For example, my cell phone number is Bobby Orr, Lawrence Taylor, Gordy Howe, Mario Lemieux and another of my favorite Boston Bruins (you didn't think I would give out the whole number did you?) 

The biggest problem with (274) as an area code is that there are no real "memorable" athletes that wore 27 or 74.  Scott Niedermeyer was a pretty good 27--but he certainly doesn't have the iconic stature of my other "numbers guys".  And NO ONE good wore 74--so I'm totally screwed there.  My suggestion to the PSC: let's go with (399) instead.  Babe Ruth-Wayne Gretzky--doesn't get any easier to remember that.

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