YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER used to define where you lived. Now it defines where you are. There’s a difference. Until the 21st century your phone number often gave others a sense of your place in the world, as in: You have an 828 number so you must be from Hudson ….
Not anymore. You might know your caller at the northeast corner of Warren and Third streets, but the phone number tells you nothing.
Get used to it. The situation will only become more confusing for those of a certain age who retain sentimental attachments to stuff like the boundaries of telephone area codes and seven-digit phone numbers. Here’s why: the government says the 518 area code must change in the next two years.
An organization called Neustar, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, says that 518 is going to run out of new numbers for local exchanges in early 2019. There are only about 38 exchanges left out of more than 750 total and they’re getting used up fast.
Now it’s up to the state Public Service Commission to decide which of two plans to adopt to make sure consumers don’t have to wait for somebody to drop dead or move to Florida before a phone number in the 518 area code becomes available.
Option 1 is called the Overlay plan, which would leave the 518 area code intact and add a second area code in the same region. Everyone who has a phone number that starts with 518 keeps the whole number. When the new area code is turned on sometime before 2019, most of the new numbers assigned to customers will start with that new three-digit area code. The change will create enough available phone numbers to last 49 years.
Here’s the catch: everybody has to dial an area code as part of all calls, even to other 518 numbers. What the … what!? The only exempt calls are to emergency numbers like 911. Option 1 will make us dial at least 10 digits every time we dial a call. No more seven-digits even if we’re calling somewhere else in the 518 area code. So if you live in Chatham and have a 392 number and you want to call your cousin who also lives in Chatham’s 392-world, you will have to dial 518 first. Our Lives Will Be Ruined.
Option 2 is the Geographic Split in which the 518 area code gets carved in two and 518 is assigned to one of the parts. The other part gets stuck with a new area code. What’s wrong with that? If you have a business or organization that has advertising or any documents that include the area code and you are in the new area code you will have to swallow the expense of finding every important place you number appears and revising it to include the new area code. Otherwise, at a certain point, calls to you will trigger a recording that says you no longer exist.
The inconvenience and cost of an Option 2 split isn’t a Chicken Little scenario. It really can become a mess as those who experienced the split of the 914 area code in the mid- and lower-Hudson Valley can attest.
Our 518 is one of this country’s original area codes and it’s one of a handful that have never been split or had a new area code overlay since area codes were introduced in 1947. At nearly 70 years old it’s time for a change.
The state Department of Public Service recommends Option 1, a new area code added alongside 518. That is the better approach and one that takes into consideration how current technology functions. If you can add one new area code you can add more of them as needed.
Columbia County and our neighbor, Greene County, have been hobbled by the worst internet service in the state. It’s been a real fight to change that, though it’s poised to improve. Phone service is also spotty. We cannot afford to be saddled with another inferior technology.
Plenty of county residents already preset their phone contacts and assume that an area code is part of every call. The rest of us can adjust.
The county Board of Supervisors and local municipal governments should add their voices in support of Option 1. It’s the right approach and it’s a great opportunity to remind the PSC that we deserve modern telecommunications services and we’re determined to get them.