COLONIE — Uncertainty seemed to be the tone of a meeting last week that addressed how users of the 518 area code would best like to incorporate a new area code, now that the options for making new numbers with the 518 code are close to exhausted.
By 2019, the 518 area code will most likely have run out of assignable telephone numbers, according to Neustar, the entity tasked by the Federal Communications Commission with administering area codes. Right now, the 518 code serves at least part of all the counties in New York state, including Albany, Clinton, Columbia, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saint Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren and Washington counties.
Residents of the Capital Region gathered at Colonie Memorial Town Hall to learn about the upcoming area code expiration and to discuss the options that are available going forward. Typically when dealing with area code exhaustion, according to Graham Jesmer, assistant counsel in the New York State Public Service Commission, two paths are available.
One option, called the geographic split, would have the areas that utilize the 518 code cut into two pieces. In one area, current phone users and any new numbers in that area would stick to the 518 area code. In the other section, all residents who have the 518 code with the current number and any residents who end up getting phones will be assigned to the new number. Customers who had phones already would be able to keep their old seven-digit phone number. The only factor that would change is the area code.
The other option, which is historically the more popular option when it comes to area code relief, is the overlay option. In the overlay option, a new area code is superimposed on their existing 518 code, and any new phone customers would have the new area code as well.
If the state opts to go with the geographic split, businesses that are in the area in which the new code is assigned will have to update any marketing materials they have. Right now, it is has not been decided which areas would retain the old code in the case of a geographic split. Both options deal with phone carriers eventually having to dial 10 digits, something that users in the past have expressed concern about, despite the fact that 10 digit numbers are an inescapable future due to the rate technology is developing, according to Jesmer.
“This change will affect everyone in the 518 areas’ day-to-day lives,” Jesmer said at the meeting.
However, the area code exhaust has been a long time coming. There are limited area codes, and once they are assigned to a geographic area they cannot be shared with any other area. The increase in cell phone providers in the state has also contributed to the dwindling amount of numbers available. With more and more retailers taking from one pool of numbers, and more people owning more than one device, numbers get used up quickly.
“The explosion of these types of devices over the last five to 10 years is really why we’re seeing area code exhaust in a lot of areas in New York State and across the country,” Jesmer said. In order to extend area code life, the state has implemented measures such as number portability, which is when one phone user is able to keep a number even after a provider switch. The state also decreased the amount of numbers it released to phone companies, giving them smaller batches of numbers to try to curb the quick flow of number depletion. However, according to Neustar, those measures have been taken as far as they can go.
“We’ve exhausted, for lack of a better way of putting it, the relief options, and that’s why we are now here, seeking input on the next step,” Jesmer said. The new area code implementation will not come at a cost to phone customers.
Residents at the meeting voiced hesitant preference for the overlay method, but also pointed out some concerns they had, even after attending the information session.
Latham resident Ron Galinski said that he and his niece, who lives in Amsterdam, both have the 518 area code and mentioned that an overlay would be better. He called the overlay method “much more convenient,” and while he agreed that 10 digit dialing could be a nuisance, he also said he hopes the overlay method is chosen going forward.
Nancy Benedict, 70, pointed out that not everyone has access to quick ways of looking up numbers, and that 10 digit numbers could be more difficult to remember.
“This change, whichever way we do it, is going to be a little bit more of a problem for people who don’t have computers, like me, because I don’t have any computers in my house at all. I wish that everybody involved would just think of the fact that not everybody has a way of quickly looking up a phone number on a computer, because they don’t.”
Public comment on the area code issue closes on Aug. 19. There will be meetings regarding the issue on Tuesday, Aug. 2 at Gloversville City Hall at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 3 at 6 p.m. at Plattsburgh Town Hall, and Thursday, Aug. 4 at 1 p.m. at the Conference Center at Lake Placid. Those interested may also visit www.dps.ny.gov to learned more and post comments.