Why are telephone customers in Baltimore and counties east of the Patuxent River getting saddled with a new area code next year -- 410 -- while customers in the bedroom communities surrounding Washington aren't?
"It was a matter of overall impact," Mark Davis, area code coordinator for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., explained yesterday at a press conference to formally announce the new area code.
As previously reported, C&P plans to give the eastern half of Maryland a 410 area code starting next November. The other half of the state, including customers in the Maryland suburbs that ring Washington, will retain the 301 area code.
The move is aimed at heading off a shortfall in telephone numbers over the next few years, the result of increasing demand for numbers for facsimile machines, pagers, cellular phones and other communication technologies.
According to Mr. Davis, C&P decided after a nearly yearlong study that customers in Baltimore and the eastern region could better accommodate an area code change than could their neighbors to the west.
He noted that Maryland customers who live in the suburbs of Washington have already undergone two calling changes in the past two years. The latest requires those customers to dial 10 digits -- the area code and number -- to call into the District of Columbia or Northern Virginia, even if the call is local. Mr. Davis said it would be unfair to inflict yet a third calling change on customers there.
Cost was a second reason for singling out Baltimore and the east for the new area code, he said.
According to Mr. Davis, C&P has about twice as many business accounts in metropolitan Washington as it does in the Baltimore area. Also, more cellular telephones are in use in that market, he said.
As such, reprogramming costs for the western half of the state would have been substantially higher both for C&P and the cellular telephone service providers, he said.
Current conversion costs are pegged at about $10 million, Mr. Davis said, a figure that would have been about $3.5 million higher had the western half been involved.
Mr. Davis said the addition of the second area code should free up enough numbers to last for another 22 years, after which time Maryland can expect additional area codes. Customers may call (800) 477-4704 starting Dec. 1 to obtain more information about the area code change.