Commission postpones 10-digit dialing for a year

By Paul Queary

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Western Washington telephone users won’t have to dial 10 digits for local calls for at least another year, state regulators ruled Wednesday.

The change had been set for Oct. 20, when the new 564 area code was scheduled to go into use, overlaying the 206, 253, 425 and 360 area codes.

The decision was based on a survey and forecasts by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission’s staff that determined the demand for new telephone numbers had slackened.

"We don’t want to go to 10-digit dialing any sooner than we have to," said Marilyn Showalter, chairwoman of the commission, which received hundreds of comments opposing the change.

State regulators will monitor the demand for new numbers and decide late next year whether to propose a new start date.

The new area code was proposed last year based on fears that Western Washington area codes would run out of numbers in the next several years.

The growth in pagers, cellular telephones and extra lines for computer modems helped fuel increased demand.

The 360 area code is stretched the thinnest, with only 57 prefixes available for assignment to telecommunications companies as of Aug. 15. A prefix contains 10,000 separate telephone numbers.

The change had been scheduled for February of this year, but was delayed until October.

Now the commission’s staff says the demand has dropped with the slower economy and efforts by the commission and telephone companies to use the existing number supply more efficiently.

"If the codes can last, if the numbers can last, we think the customers are going to like that," said Michael Dunne, a spokesman for Qwest.

The commission found that the demand for numbers was overstated because it assumed explosive growth in telecommunications would continue and companies wouldn’t improve the efficiency of their number use.

Companies are returning 31 prefixes in area code 360 this year, 10 more than were issued.

By delaying the new area code at least a year, the commission hopes to avoid it indefinitely by taking advantage of new techniques for using existing numbers more effectively. A nationwide method for pooling numbers so that more than one company can use an existing prefix is due next year, according to the commission staff’s report.

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