- Who has authority over area codes?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has jurisdiction over telephone number administration in the United States. Area codes do not cross state boundaries, so each state has the authority to decide when and in what form to introduce new area codes. In Texas, this authority rests with the Public Utility Commission (PUC).
- Who decides when a new area code is needed?
The North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA), currently administered by Neustar, studies historic growth, makes projections for future growth and notifies the PUC when a new area code is needed. The affected area code is described as being near "exhaust."
NANPA administers the area code system designed in the 1940s by AT&T and Bell Laboratories to route long distance calls automatically. In 1947 Texas received its first four area codes: 214, 512, 713 and 915.
NANPA is also the source of all telephone numbers. It assigns the prefixes within any area code to a telecommunications company.
- What happens after NANPA notifies the PUC a new area code is needed?
NANPA holds a series of meetings with representatives of the telecommunications industry, such as local and long distance companies and related industries, such as emergency 911 systems, burglar alarms systems and portable telephone providers; and affected local communities. The representatives consider a variety of options and comments, then forward a recommendation to the PUC. During an open meeting, the PUC can accept, reject or modify the NANPA recommendation.
- Can I comment on a proposed new area code?
Yes, the PUC welcomes your comments. The PUC will generally conduct one or more public meetings in the region served by the area code nearing "exhaust" to explain available options and ask for public comment. You can also send your written comments directly to the PUC.
- Who decides what the new area code will be?
NANPA assigns new area codes for the entire nation. Soon after receiving the PUC decision on how a new area code will be added, NANPA determines the new area code and informs the PUC, which announces it to the public.
However, although area codes may only appear to be only an inconvenience, they are also an indicator of positive economic growth.
- Why are new area codes needed?
Cell phones, fax machines, modems, alarm systems and pagers are among the popular communications options increasing the demand for phone numbers. Another culprit is the inefficient method telephone companies use to assign phone numbers. The system set up by the telecommunications industry calls for number assignments in blocks of 10,000. This made sense when telephone service was a monopoly, but in today’s competitive environment the 10,000 block-assignment system has taken hundreds of thousands of numbers out of circulation permanently.
Under that system, a scenario for your city might go like this. NANPA receives requests for one or more blocks of numbers from your current company, two competitors, four wireless companies, and three burglary alarm companies. Each requests a block of numbers in one month. This request has just taken 100,000 numbers out of circulation, and some companies have no immediate need and may never need that many numbers. Multiply such requests by the number of competing telecommunications companies and the number of population centers served by your area code and you can see why this has become a problem.
- How many numbers are in an area code?
Normal phone numbers are identified as NXX-XXXX (ie: 555-1234). N acts as any digit 2-9 and X is any digit 0-9. Each area code has 792 prefixes or "NXX" codes. Each NXX has 10,000 possible numbers. Therefore, theoretically, there are 7,920,000 telephone numbers per area code. In reality, since carriers need test numbers and other codes, not all of the telephone numbers are utilized.
- What is the PUC doing to conserve numbers?
The PUC was among the first state regulatory bodies in the nation to encourage rate center consolidation. Rate centers are the specific geographic areas used for rating and billing long distance calls, and every phone company serving a rate center needs an individually assigned telephone prefix for its customers. In 1997 at the request of the PUC, Southwestern Bell consolidated rate centers in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, freeing thousands of numbers.
In November, 2000 the PUC began reclaiming numbers not in service under authority granted by the FCC. Reclamation works this way. After NANPA assigns a prefix to a telecommunications company, that prefix must be in use within six months. If not, the PUC can either order the company to return the prefix and its numbers to NANPA or the PUC can grant the company a short extension to bring the numbers in service. Thousands of numbers have already been saved in Texas through number reclamation.
Number pooling, where NANPA assigns numbers to a telecommunications company in blocks of 1,000 rather than the standard 10,000, is another conservation method. This method is being utilized in designated metropolitan areas in the state and is also saving numbers.
Sequential number assigning has been another helpful conservation tool. This kind of assignment requires companies to issue numbers in sequential order, thus preserving blocks in one thousand number increments for use in number pooling.
- What about local number portability? Would that help?
No. Number Portability doe not help in conserving the numbers, a ported number uses two telephone numbers to route the call to the subscriber; one from the original switch and the other from the switch that serves the customer. Number portability is currently an option only when you change companies and is offered to encourage competition. Few customers would likely switch local companies if each switch required a number change.
- Some countries use eight-digit phone numbers. Would this cut down on the need for new area codes in Texas by offering more phone number combinations?
Although eight digit phone numbers could solve the number shortage eventually, they would require revamping the nation’s telephone network. This type of change would be expensive to implement and the cost would inevitably be passed on to customers.
- If cellular phones and pagers are part of the problem, why not give wireless technology its own area code?
Texas customers proposed this solution when new area codes were first needed in Dallas and Houston. The PUC liked the idea, but the FCC rejected it as anti-competitive. However, in March 2002, the FCC reversed itself noting that circumstances have changed; therefore, the FCC is now considering Service Specific Overlays on a case-by-case basis and the PUC is reviewing the possibility of utilizing them.
- What is the difference between an "overlay" and a "geographic split"?
geographic region covered by the area code is divided. One region keeps the existing area code. The other region or regions are assigned new area codes.
The area code provides a geographic identity, and you keep seven-digit dialing for local calls.
It takes time to alert friends and businesses of the new area code, and it costs money to reprint addresses on checks, mailing labels, business supplies and advertising.
An overlay places a new area code over the same geographic region or over a portion of that region in what is called a concentrated overlay. This creates two or more area codes in the same region. New customers are assigned the new code, while existing customers keep their existing code.
You keep your area code, and you do not have to change advertising and other printed items.
You must dial 10 digits to place a local call, and a single residence or business could have two different area codes for different lines.
- Does an area code change affect long distance rates?
Absolutely not. Calls that were local before the change will remain local calls. This is true even if you have an extended calling scope that is split by an area code. You may have to dial 10 digits to reach certain cities in your local calling scope, but it is still a local call.
With an overlay, you must remember to dial the area code along with your original seven-digit number, but you are charged as you were before the overlay. You are still making a local call.
- Does a new area code affect my local phone bill?
No, your phone bill stays the same.
- Are 9-1-1 calls affected?
No, the system serving you will be reprogrammed. You still dial only 9-1-1.
- How can I cope with all these new area codes?
Make changes in your personal and business address books for anyone in an affected area. If you have a statewide data base, update it as soon as the new area code can be used, rather than waiting until it must be used. You should also reprogram numbers speed dialed to a new area code.
- Who can I call if I have more questions about a new area code?
Call your local phone company. If your questions are not answered, call the PUC.
Cities and prefixes for each area code have been provided by the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA), which oversees the area code number assignment system. This information will change as new prefixes are added or returned.
Prefix information will be updated periodically from the NANPA database of Texas prefixes in use in each area code. All prefixes listed on the Texas Area Codes site reflect NANPA numbering data through June, 2009. Because of the way telephone data is assembled, some cities may not be on the list. If you feel any city is not listed or is listed incorrectly, please send the city, prefix, and area code to firstname.lastname@example.org and it will be researched and added if NANPA’s information coincides. Any questions or comments about the Texas Area Codes section of the PUC site should also be sent to this address.