A new area code is coming to the region, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio wants residents to help make the call on how it happens.
The PUCO has been notified by the North American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA), the federal agency that oversees distribution of telephone numbers, that the 740 area code is expected to run out of available numbers by the first half of 2015. That means a new area code is needed, and the PUCO must decide which of two methods to use.
The first is a geographic split: the southeastern and central Ohio territory covered by the 740 area code would be divided, with one segment keeping that code while the other would have a yet-to-be-determined area code affixed to its existing seven-digit numbers. That's how it was done when the 740 area code was added and split from the 614 area code in 1998.
The second option is called an overlay and was the approach used when West Virginia was projected to run out of 304 numbers five years ago. Existing numbers would keep the 740 area code, and new lines would be assigned the new code. That also means people would have to dial the area code with all local calls.
Charlotte Keim, president of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, said her first instinct was to avoid 10-digit dialing.
"That is cumbersome and time-consuming for those of us who still have a phone on our desk and dial it," she said.
New area code options
Geographic split - The area covered by an existing area code is split into two smaller areas. One of the sections retains the existing area code while the other receives a new one, although the seven digit number itself would remain unchanged.
Overlay - A new area code "covers" the existing area code, most often serving the identical geographic area. Existing numbers keep the old area code, and only new telephone lines are assigned the new one. All 10 digits would have to be dialed, even on local calls.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is seeking public input on the change through Nov. 27. Residents can share their opinions in one of three ways:
Online - A survey form, with space for comments, is available at www.puco.ohio.gov
Phone - 1-800-686-PUCO (7826).
Mail - PUCO, 180 East Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215.
But when Keim thought about the effects of having to add a new area code on businesses that have already printed stationary, signs and more bearing their current number, she reconsidered.
"Boy, that's going to be a lot of printing costs," she said. "We don't print that much, but when we do, we usually print two or three years' worth."
Jack Haessly, president of Haessly Hardwood Lumber in Lower Newport, said he thinks assigning the new area code to new numbers is fair.
Changing the area code "would cause a lot of commotion in our network of people," said Haessly, whose business works with companies around the country and the world.
The overlay method is the preference of a number of local residents as well.
"I don't think that it would bother people to dial a few extra digits," said Marietta resident Anna Rehl, 67, of Marietta, noting the most frequently dialed numbers are already programmed into most people's cell phones anyway.
Marietta resident Kenny Ammell, 29, said the overlay method seems easier, because most people wouldn't have to make any changes.
"Most of my family ... has got 740 numbers," he said. "It would make me mad if I had to keep changing them."
Public comments posted on the PUCO website Thursday were running 149-81 in favor of the overlay. Those who preferred the split said having more than one area code in the same geographic region could be confusing.
"With a lot of the elderly, it would be hard for them to remember and might not be able to get ahold of a family member in an emergency," read a comment submitted by a McConnelsville resident. "I remember when my grandparents were alive it was hard for them to remember the area codes for all family members."
Other residents didn't seem to mind either method.
"We had split ours three different times" while living in Mississippi, said New Matamoras resident Elizabeth Langsdorf, 52. "So either way it goes, I don't care."
The PUCO is accepting public comments on the matter through Nov. 27. They can be submitted via an online survey at www.puco.ohio.gov, called in to the agency at 1-800-686-PUCO (7826) or mailed to the PUCO at 180 East Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215.
The decision won't be based solely on which option proves most popular, but the agency does want to hear from the people who will be affected, said PUCO spokesman Jason Gilham.
It takes about 13 months to implement a new area code, Gilham said, so a decision will have to be made soon.
"I would imagine something in the next couple months," he said.
It's not just residential and business phone lines eating up the 740 numbers. According to information on the PUCO website, technology like pay-at-the-pump gas stations and ATMs also require phone numbers.