Columbia residents told state Public Service Commission representatives last week that they want the telephone company to leave their numbers alone.
The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. told 126 residents in the Kendall Ridge neighborhood in the village of Long Reach that it would be changing their numbers to an Ellicott City exchange.
Being assigned new numbers is not just an inconvenience, residents told the commission Thursday night; it will be a financial hardship.
Those who want to keep their Columbia numbers say they have a Washington-area orientation. They either work in Washington or the nearby Maryland suburbs, or they have family and friends who do.
They said that getting a phone number that would allow them to call those exchanges toll-free was one of the reasons they moved to Kendall Ridge.
The phone company will allow residents to keep the Columbia exchange but will charge them $207 to $1,080 more a year to do so.
"We are fully responsible for the error that occurred. There is no doubt about that," telephone company spokesman J. William Sarver told the commission.
Randy M. Allen, speaking as co-chairman of a 41-family task force opposing the phone number change, agrees that the phone company made an error. But residents disagree with the phone company on the nature of the error and its solution, he said.
The phone company says its mistake was to assign a Columbia exchange to Kendall Ridge residents. Residents say the phone company erred in using boundary lines that assigned a Columbia neighborhood to an Ellicott City exchange.
Initially, the phone company wanted the phone numbers changed within a month. In February, it modified the deadline to six months, and it now says residents can take up to a year to make the change.
Residents said that if the phone company is willing to let them keep their exchanges for a year, they should be able to keep them for 15 or more years. Better still, they asked, what about redrawing the boundary lines to include Kendall Ridge with other Columbia exchanges?
Sarver said that redrawing the boundary lines is the company's first option in situations like this one, but it is impossible in Kendall Ridge. The exchanges there are scattered and do not follow a distinct geographical pattern.
More than half the lines -- 134 of 260 -- were originally assigned an Ellicott City exchange. Many of the customers using the other 126 lines are happy with the change, Sarver said. The result, he added, is that even more people would be unhappy if the boundary lines were redrawn.
To allow residents to keep the numbers they now have without additional charges would be "an administrative nightmare," Sarver said. The company is offering a year's grace period for residents to obtain new exchanges because that period will allow enough time to have the new numbers listed in the next phone directory, Sarver said.