Upcoming Area Code Changes: What You Need to Know

Using a toll-free custom number can provide a major brand boost but those using area codes in their business phone number will need to stay perpetually in the know about area code changes. 

For as long as anyone can remember, area codes have been a part of everyday life in America. They help us to tell where others are calling from and provide a sense of community for people who use the same prefix.

Only some people can recall their first phone number, but there’s a good chance you remember the area code you grew up in. And if you haven’t had that “I don’t know anyone in [insert state here]…” moment as a call comes in, you probably don’t have caller ID!

Although the worries about whether a call is local or not have largely faded from memory thanks to single-rate cellular plans, the venerable area code is still going strong. For some who live in densely populated areas like New York City and Los Angeles, certain dial codes have even become iconic.

The flip side of that familiarity is that sometimes area codes have to change. Not everyone is happy when that happens!

Area code changes; what you need to know

Upcoming Area Codes

Is your area on the schedule for a new set of dial digits?

The table below shows all of the planned changes and affected area codes for the next year or so.

US Area Code Changes 2017-2018

Next up is Washington state, where the introduction of 564 will roll out to everyone outside metro Seattle at the end of August. The new digits will overlay the existing 360 dial code, which was itself only introduced in 1995. While numbers for all Washington area codes remain available, the general assignment of numbers in this particular location has reached its reset point in a little over 20 years.

This shows us how quickly numbers can run out.

New dial codes solve the ongoing challenge of adding new numbers when an existing area code nears its "exhaust date." Unfortunately, with the proliferation of cell phones as second lines and, subsequently, a line for each individual family member, numbers are running out much more quickly than they used to.

The exhausted areas listed above cover the scheduled changes for the next year, but there will inevitably be new codes added to this list as we move into the next quarter. In the case of Washington state, the 564 dial code buys the region another chunk of time until its next roll out. Nonetheless, it's tough to say exactly how long that will be.

As the new code rolls out, however, callers will face another number-related issue to deal with: ten-digit dialing.

The Move to 10-Digit Dialing

The North American Numbering Plan (NANP) separates the regions under its auspices into what it calls numbering plan areas, or NPAs. This is where the three-digit dial codes that we know and love originate. The seven numbers that follow then only have to be unique within the individual NPA they serve.

This seven-digit system was particularly important in the past, as it allowed callers to distinguish between local and national calls. The latter - also referred to as long-distance calling - required the full ten-digit number and typically carried a higher rate. For a period, telecom companies made a lot of money on national and international calls, which helped make up for the flat-rate, low-cost local calling plans.

Nowadays we have unlimited calling plans that make the distinction between local and long-distance dialing unimportant for most consumers. The need to use a full phone number is also moving a step closer as new area code changes roll out, with 10 digit dialing becoming a requirement in many of these markets.

Starting this week, for example, residents in Southwest Washington must tap in all ten digits for any call they make. The same is true in central Pennsylvania, where callers in 16 counties served by the 717 area code will switch to 10-digit dialing on August 26th. After their respective cut-off dates, residents in these locations will find that the calls fail to connect and a recorded message will inform them to try again.

For some, the change will be barely noticeable. Phone numbers stored in smartphones mean many people already use the full number, while almost any number listed online is validated against all ten digits.

For those who are used to dialing familiar local numbers, or who rely on a landline as their primary telephone connection, area code changes and 10-digit dialing will be more jarring. If you own a business with a strong sense of locality, it pays to keep up with area code changes and help customers make the transition when they affect your area. 

We'll have more tips on how to do that next week, as well as the practical implications and potential safety issues of 10-digit dialing, so be sure to like our Facebook page or check out our Twitter feed to keep up with the latest information!

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