Congress Should Stop 10-Digit Dialing

Once in a while, someone comes up with an idea that’s just plain unnecessary.

So it is with mandatory 10 digit dialing for telephone calls within your own area code.

Readers of this column will recall that when this columnist’s mother was little, the family’s telephone number was five longs.

The local telephone operator used a combination of short rings and long rings to signal – to all customers on the party line – whom the incoming call was for.

And, of course, no one ever listened to others’ calls on the party line.

With direct dialing, callers eventually needed to dial seven digits for calls within their own area code, regardless of whether they were local or long-distance calls.

With the growing demand for telephone numbers – first because of multiple voice lines, and later because of such innovations as fax machines and cellular telephones – came the need for new area codes.

When some regions have needed a new area code, they’ve chosen an overlay area code. Under this approach, the new area code is available throughout the original area-code region. The region then has two area codes: The original one and the new one.

The principal advantage of this is that no existing customers receive a new area code. The principal disadvantage is 10 digit, rather than seven-digit, dialing for calls within the region.

Other regions have chosen differently. They’ve chosen to divide the original area-code region. Under this approach, part of the region keeps the old area code, while part gets a new one.

The principal disadvantage of this is that some existing customers receive a new area code. The principal advantage is that 10 digit dialing for calls within each new area-code region is unnecessary. Seven-digit dialing continues to suffice.

These are the two choices for each region.

For example, two decades ago when Western New York’s original 716 area code was running low on telephone numbers, Western New York chose the latter option. The region’s western part retained the 716 area code. Meanwhile, the eastern part received a new 585 area code.

As a result, no one in the 716 area code or in the 585 area code has needed to dial 10 digits for calls within each area code. Seven digits have continued to suffice.

That’s about to change, and it may take the federal government to stop it.

According to reports, some have decided to create a particular three-digit telephone number for a noble cause. Because of the particular number, all callers – including those that now enjoy seven-digit dialing – will have to dial 10 digits for calls within their own area code.

The identity of the cause is beyond the point. There’s no suggestion here that the cause isn’t a good one.

Nevertheless, we’ve had other three-digit telephone numbers for decades, and there’s been no mandate for 10 digit dialing just to call your next-door neighbors or anyone else within your area code.

There must be a way around this now. Whatever the cause, there’s no need to mandate 10 digit dialing for everyone.

The powers that be should either establish a three-digit telephone number that doesn’t necessitate mandating 10 digit dialing for everyone, or find another way within the existing telephone system.

This shouldn’t be hard to figure out.

Contact your federal elected officials right away.

Tell them this shouldn’t be hard.

Ask them to figure this out.

No matter how noble the cause, there’s no need to mandate 10 digit dialing for everyone.

They need to find another way.

Randy Elf is among those who see no need to make dialing a telephone unnecessarily complicated.



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