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On Feb. 1, 2012, the area code for the corner of northwestern Pennsylvania including all or parts of a dozen counties including Crawford, Erie, Venango and Warren will no longer be 814.

Thursday, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approved a plan to split the 814 area code along geographic boundaries to avoid running out of phone numbers. The commission voted 5-0 to split the area code along rate center boundaries, applying the new area code to the part of the current 814 area code bounded on the east by Jefferson, Elk and McKean counties.

During the next few weeks, the new number for the new area code will be determined  by the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, the neutral third party area code relief planner for Pennsylvania.

New area codes are needed when existing area codes exhaust their supply of “NXX” codes (the second set of three digits in a 10-digit telephone number, NPA-NXX-XXXX). The 814 area code is projected to run out of telephone numbers in the first quarter of 2013.

According to the PUC, a permissive dialing period of about six months is allowed when introducing a new area code. During this time, customers may reach numbers in the new area code by either dialing 814 or the new area code. Even during the permissive dialing period, however, customers are encouraged to use the correct dialing; once the permissive dialing period has ended, customers will receive a recorded message telling them to hang up and redial using the new area code.

On June 9, 2009, Neustar, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator responsible for maintaining the database of telephone numbering resources for all of North America, petitioned the PUC for area code relief. The PUC held a comment period, followed by public input hearings. During that process, the PUC received significant input from the public supporting a geographic split.

In light of that public feedback, the Commission said that because of the geographic size of the 814 area code and the location of population centers, a geographic split created fewer inconveniences than an overlay.

With the geographic split, consumers may continue to dial seven digits for local calling. The overlay would have covered the entire 814 area code with a new area code and required 10-digit dialing throughout a large geographic area in Pennsylvania.

In the beginning, there were four

Developed by AT&T and Bell Laboratories during the 1940s, the North American area code system was put into effect in 1947 with a total of 86 three-digit area codes assigned to cover the entire United States and Canada.

States and provinces with a single area code were assigned three-digit numbers with 0 as the middle number. Area codes in states and provinces with more than one area code had 1 as the middle digit.

Because rotary dialing was the name of the game back in the day and because numbers dialed on rotary phones are encoded as clicks created as the dial rotates back to its initial position, lower numbers took less time to dial. Area code 212, which was assigned to all five of New York City’s boroughs, for example, took just five clicks to return to its original position. With “0” taking 10 clicks to return, Alaska’s 907 and Hawaii’s 808 both required a hefty 26 clicks. Because each rotary phone tied up a full circuit of the phone network while it was being dialed and since time is money, it made sense to the folks at Bell Labs that the most commonly called places should take the least time to dial. Touch-tone dialing, however, changed all that; each tone encoded ties up the line for the same amount of time.

In 1947, area code 412 served Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania; 215 served Philadelphia and the surrounding area; 717 took care of the eastern central part of the state and 814 covered the western central portion.

Of the original four Pennsylvania area codes, the 814 area code is the only one to have remained unchanged. With the split, Pennsylvania will have 12 area codes – 412/878, 570, 610/484, 814, 724/878, 717, 215/267 and the area code still to be determined.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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