For some time now, the Mississippi Public Service Commission has been monitoring the decreasing availability of phone numbers that utilize the “601” area code for Central Mississippi.
“We’ve changed the way we communicate in our society,” says Vicky Helfrich, director of communications for the Public Utility Staff. Hers is a separate agency that works closely with the Public Service Commission on all utility matters. “With so many cellular service providers and people having multiple lines, the telephone numbers using a ‘601’ number are rapidly being exhausted.”
The Mississippi Public Service Commission was given several alternatives by the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA), which is an integrated numbering plan that serves North American countries. Developed in 1947 and implemented in 1951 by AT&T, NANPA keeps up with area codes and prefixes, helping to facilitate direct dialing of long distance calls.
“NANPA presented the Mississippi Public Service Commission with several alternative plans,” says Helfrich. The proposed plans included six different geographic split alternatives, two different three-way geographic splits and the overlay solution. The Commission’s decision was based on a proposed plan that would be the least disruptive to consumers. “The splits weren’t practical, as it would split counties. Also, it would require telephone number changes for many people, which is inconvenient, especially for businesses, which would have to change their advertising, business cards and such. The overlay was the most logical solution.”
An overlay is simply another area code that is used in an area where all the numbers in one area code are exhausted. Central Mississippi is the only area of the state affected by the overlay. The new area code will be “769.”
“The new area code actually became effective March 24, 2004,” explains Helfrich. “But we haven’t needed it until now.” To prepare for the new area code, the public was required to dial a 10-digit number when making a call. “There was a permissive period of one year to get everyone used to dialing the 10-digit numbers,” Helfrich says. “Then it became mandatory after a certain period of time.”
The new code will overlay the area that currently uses “601” as an area code. Customers who currently have “601” area code will not have to change their telephone. The geographic boundaries of the “601” area will not change; however, the introduction of the new overlay area code will make 10-digit dialing necessary for all local calls. “Each carrier is given an allotment of 10,000 phone numbers,” Helfrich says. “As people move out of the market, those numbers can be recycled. Many companies haven’t needed to issue numbers with the new area code yet. However, we do know some people have numbers with the new area code, because they are in the phone book.”
Sue Sperry, spokesperson for AT&T in Mississippi and Louisiana, said it has not issued any of the new numbers yet. “We’re not sure when that will happen. It’s just based on what happens in the market,” she says. “But the fact that there is now an overlay with a new area code is indicative of what’s happening in this area. It’s a sign of growth.”
Area codes “228” and “662,” which are currently utilized in southern and northern Mississippi, are continually monitored, since at some point these two area codes will also be affected by the increasing demand for new telephone numbers in those areas.
Customers will not experience any changes to their local calling plans as a result of the new area code and 10-digit dialing pattern.
“Any calls that currently incur local charges will continue to be local calls, even after the “769” area code overlay is implemented,” says Sperry.