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WUTC postpones area code 564 overlay and mandatory 10-digit dialing
 

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission announced Aug. 22 that Western Washington telephone customers can go at least another year without having to dial 10-digits for all their local calls.

In its regular public meeting, the commission determined that the new 564 area code assigned to Western Washington will not be needed for at least another year. This decision was based on a survey and forecast prepared by commission.

The new 564 area code was planned to overlap Western Washington's four existing area codes. This means that the new area code would require all customers to dial 10 digits to complete a local. Currently, Western Washington customers have an option to use 7 or 10 digits when making a local call. (Customers can even use 11 digits -- 1 plus the area code and phone number -- to dial local calls.)

Rather than set another date for introducing the new area code, the WUTC directed its staff to monitor number use on a monthly basis and determine later next year whether to propose a new date for the start of the area code. The telecommunications industry indicated it needs about six months to prepare for the introduction of a new area code and mandatory 10-digit dialing. Staff estimates that the new area code will not be needed for at least another 12 months.

Before the commission acted today, the area code and mandatory 10-digit dialing were to go into effect Oct. 20. The commission indicated 10-digit dialing could be delayed for longer than a year--or avoided altogether. Staff said that new software that will be installed in the telephone network in the near future has the potential of allowing phone numbers to be shared more efficiently than currently.

"We don't want to go to 10-digit dialing any sooner than we have to," said Chairwoman Marilyn Showalter. "In our judgment, consumers would rather delay mandatory 10-digit dialing than keep to a previously set date that is now earlier than necessary--and may never be necessary.''

The commission based its decision on a recommendation by its staff that the current deadline of Oct. 20, 2001 be extended until the fall of 2002 before implementing the new 564 area code and mandatory 10-digit local calling for telephone customers in western Washington. Staff members believe there are enough telephone prefixes in the existing area codes (360, 206, 425, and 253) to meet the telephone industry's needs for the next year.

Telephone companies have become more efficient in how they use telephone numbers, and the entry of new telephone companies that occurred in the late 1990s has virtually stopped. As a result, the WUTC staff expects that during 2001 more telephone prefixes to be returned by telephone companies than will be issued to telephone companies.
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