The next time you pass someone walking along talking on one
of those convenient new hand-held phones you can thank them for
10-digit dialing. Ditto for that guy in traffic ahead of you
sending a fax from his car. And those folks whose beepers go off
in the middle of a movie as well.
As of May 1, Maryland will become the first state in the union to introduce 10-digit dialing for all telephone calls.
On that day, all calls--even across the street to your neighbor whose dog is barking at 3 a.m.--will require an area code plus the regular seven-digit number. Nor will business users such as the university be exempt. Local service provider Bell Atlantic and the university's Office of Telecommunications Services are both gearing up to remind individuals, offices and businesses that they will have to change their habits and adjust their equipment to comply with the new requirements.
"This is not something we have any control over, but it is something we hope to help make go as smoothly as possible," said Murray Ryan, director of the Office of Telecommunications Services at the Homewood campus. "Campus telephone users will need to reprogram their speed dials on telephones, faxes, computer modems and other equipment now to help prepare for the transition."
Local calls can be dialed with the area code now, and have been available that way for some time, according to Bell Atlantic spokesperson Sandra Arnette. "We're doing everything we can to encourage people to make the move early. Remember May 1 is only five weeks away."
The change has been on the drawing board since the Maryland Public Utilities Commission approved the new 10-digit dialing system more than a year ago. "Maryland is running out of telephone numbers," Arnette said. "A number of people now have a second or third line running to their house, plus pagers, cell phones, faxes, modems and so on. We expect to be out of 301 and 410 area code numbers by the end of the year."
Rather than subdivide the state further, as was last done in 1992 when the 410 area code was added, Bell Atlantic decided to overlay new area codes onto existing geographic boundaries. Thus the 410 code area will now also contain 443 codes, and the 301 code area will contain 240 codes. By doing the overlay, each number in the area will be able to be used twice--once in each code--thus instantly doubling the numbers available.
Bell Atlantic decided that, in the long run, the overlay system makes more sense.
"We're not cutting up the pie anymore because we realized we'd be constantly recutting it," Arnette said. "In 1992, when we added 410, we thought that it would take us into the next century. But with technology taking off the way it has been, there's no way to predict what usage will be like in 10 years. People are mobile. They're doing business in their cars. The lifestyle is changing and 10-digit dialing looks like the most long-term solution."
The last time the phone company introduced a change of this magnitude was in 1953, when Maryland moved from six-digit to seven-digit dialing. Those additional numbers lasted nearly 40 years. With any luck, said telephone officials, it will be another 40 years or more before 11-, 12- or 13-digit phone numbers become the norm.
"Dialing a 1 before the area code automatically puts the call into the long distance system and into a different rate structure," Arnette said. "As part of the switch to 10-digit dialing we have programmed the system to ignore the 1 if it is dialed before local calls, but we ask customers not to use it except when dialing long distance."
"One of our biggest efforts is trying to educate users about not dialing 1 within the local calling area," agreed Ryan. "A lot of people dial the 1 when accessing the voice mail system and we get billed for it at a different rate. Use 1 only when dialing long distance."
With the 1 or without it, more dialing is on the horizon for everyone.
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