PEnnsylvania 6-5000 to get 4 more digits in N.Y. next year Rise in numbers forces use of 'overlay' area codes

December 17, 1998|By NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- This is one number that can't be put on hold any longer.

New phone customers in Manhattan will start to see phone numbers with the new 646 area code starting July 1. New customers in other parts of the city will be assigned 347 numbers after Oct. 1.

Only newly ordered phone lines in New York City will be assigned the new codes, allowing customers with the coveted 212 status symbol and 718 code to hang on to those numbers. State regulators chose last year to use the "overlay" method that lays the new code on an existing area rather than splitting Manhattan or other parts of New York geographically.

Originally, the New York Public Service Commission had planned to introduce 646 in Manhattan in April 1998 and 347 in the other four boroughs as of January 1999.

But the process was delayed as the state commission pushed federal regulators to bend their procedures.

To help protect new competitors, the Federal Communications Commission requires that residents in areas with multiple codes dial the code plus the number for all calls. That way, a new pizza restaurant, for example, with a 646 phone number won't be disadvantaged because customers with 212 numbers would rather call a pizza spot in their own code.

The New York commissioners, however, say that they can still encourage competition while allowing New Yorkers just to dial the seven-digit number.

Earlier this year, the FCC rejected the state commission's request for an exemption to its rule but is allowing the state to use seven-digit dialing until April 2000. The state is asking the FCC to reconsider and has promised even to sue the federal regulators if they insist on imposing the rule after the temporary period is up.

But even as the two sides battle over the technical issues, the numbers available are becoming extremely scarce.

Telephone companies, including the new competitors to Bell Atlantic, are doled out telephone numbers in blocks of 10,000 and only 160,000 of the 7.6 million possible numbers remain in 212 while 718 has about 920,000 unused numbers. Telephone companies have to go through a lottery to get any of those remaining lines and in some cases, that has left some empty-handed.

Pub Date: 12/17/98

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