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Local calls will extend to 10 digits next Sunday

Southern Oregon's seven-digit telephone numbers will go the way of the passenger pigeon beginning Jan. 10.

 

Mail Tribune

Bill Kettler

January 03, 2010

Bill Kettler

Local calls must include the area code as of that day, as Oregon prepares to add its fourth area code, 458. The new area code will be overlaid on the existing 541 area code, so callers will have to add the area code to their calls. People who dial seven digits next Sunday won't make a connection.

The more things change ...

Many things will stay the same when 10-digit dialing takes effect Jan. 10:

All existing numbers will remain in service. No one will have to get a new telephone number.

Local calls still will be billed as local calls, even if you have to dial the area code. Telephone company switches know the local calling area boundaries, and bill calls accordingly.

Special three-digit numbers (9-1-1, 4-1-1) will function just as before.

Long-distance calls within the 541 area code must still be preceded by a 1.

State regulators and telephone company officials hope the transformation will go as smoothly as it did when Portland and northwest Oregon overlaid the 971 area code over the 503 area code.

"I was a bit surprised at how few issues seemed to arise," said Bob Gravely, a spokesman for Qwest Communications. "What helps is that once the 10-digit dialing takes effect, if you don't dial 10 digits you'll get an automated operator message telling you to hang up and make the call again using 10 digits. So you're forced to start doing it and it doesn't take long for people to get used to it."

New numbers with the 458 area code will start being assigned Feb. 10. Telephone companies will use their remaining 541 numbers first, but some 458 numbers could begin to appear in February.

The new area code is necessary to accommodate the growing array of communication devices, including cell phones, pagers and fax machines.

Telecommunication planners expect the additional area code to provide adequate numbers for the next 20 years.

Some people will barely notice the change. Many cell phones, for example, already require 10-digit dialing.

Others will have to do some homework, including people who have stored seven-digit numbers in their phones, fax machines or computer modems. All those numbers will have to be reprogrammed to work, Gravely said.

Organizations that have their own telephone system, such as businesses, school districts and hospitals, also will have to reprogram their phones to make 10-digit local calls and to recognize the new 458 area code.

"We hope they've prepared for this and won't wait until the last minute," said Bob Valdez, a spokesman for the Oregon Public Utility Commission. He noted that some problems surfaced during the 971 overlay when some alarm companies failed to reprogram their equipment, and calls failed to go through.

Valdez said special test numbers have been activated for businesses to make sure their phone systems are ready for the new area code. Those numbers are 458-222-8378, 458-333-8378, and 458-444-8378. All those numbers would be toll calls from Jackson County, so they will need to be preceded by a 1.

Anyone with questions about the change can visit the PUC Web site, www.puc.state.or.us/ or call the PUC at 1-800-522-2404.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 541-776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.