New area code will require time to break in

November 19, 1990|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Evening Sun Staff

As Maryland businesses prepare to adjust to two telephone area codes instead of one, companies in other parts of the country say they have easily adjusted to similar changes, given enough time and help from the telephone company.

The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland has announced that in a year, the eastern part of the state, including Baltimore, will be given a new area code -- 410.

"We were all set for it to be a big problem, but it wasn't," said Dinah Keefe, a spokeswoman for Household International Inc., a financial firm in suburban Chicago. "It was a non-event," she said. Chicago suburbs got the new area code 708 in November 1989, while the city itself retained the 312 code.

With more than a year of advance notice, Household, which has 2,000 workers in the Chicago area, was able to prepare, Keefe said. "And they [the telephone company] promoted it extremely well," she said.

Household has operations nationwide, including Maryland, where it operates one of the largest thrifts in the state.

Now it will be Maryland's turn to adjust to two area codes.

The telephone company said the new code is necessary because of the supply of telephone numbers has to be increased to meet the demand for such services as mobile phones, lines for fax machines and beepers.

With the additional area code, C&P will be able to double the amount of numbers -- enough to satisfy demand for the next 22 years, according to the company, which estimates the cost of the conversion at $10 million.

The new 410 code, which becomes effective in November 1991, will serve the Baltimore metropolitan area, the entire Eastern Shore, Calvert County and most of Carroll, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

The rest of the state, including the suburbs of Washington, will retain the 301 area code. This will include southern Maryland counties west of the Patuxent River, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, most of Frederick County and all of the western Maryland counties.

The dividing line was determined on the basis of where it would have the least impact, be the most economical and where it would coincide with natural boundaries. "There will be no change in rates customers are charged and there will be no change in local calling areas," C&P spokesman Al Burman said.

Even in those areas that are split into two codes, local rates will remain the same, Burman said.

Customers will have two years to adjust to the new arrangement. Even though the new 410 code will be in use in November 1991, calls will still be completed using either 410 or 301 for another year. Then in November 1992, customers who use the wrong area code will receive a recorded message advising them of the error and they will to redial the number.

That intercept message will remain in use until the company begins assigning the same exchange numbers in different area codes, Burman said.

C&P customers will be receiving "substantial information" over the next two years, according to a company press release. Business customers will soon be receiving the first of several letters to give them time to change their stationery and other printed materials and signs.

The company will not begin its mass media campaign until November 1991, and the scale of the campaign will depend on how well people are adjusting to the new system, Burman said.

The telephone company is following a procedure that has proven successful in other parts of the country.

Besides Chicago, new area codes have been added in New Jersey, Colorado, New York City, Los Angeles and Florida.

In Florida, the area just north of Broward County was given the new area code 407 on April 16, 1988. The customers were given notice of the change six months before that in October 1987.

One of the cities that got a new code was Orlando, the site of three Walt Disney theme parks. "It really wasn't a problem," said Judy R. Talley, manager of administration for Vista United Telecommunications, the telephone company for Walt Disney operations.

She said the advanced notification help the company plan for changes in stationery and business cards.

After the change was made, there was a two-month grace period during which either area code could be used. Then for another year, callers got a message interception if they used the wrong code, a spokeswoman for Bell South said.

With a year's advance notice and a year grace period, C&P is providing one of the longest adjustment periods in the country.

To accommodate more numbers, C&P's sister company in Washington this fall started a new system requiring customers to dial 10 digits when calling between area code 202 in Washington, 301 in Maryland or 703 in Virginia. Previously, these calls could be made without dialing an area code.

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