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The Unexpected Logic Behind Area Codes

Discussion in 'The OT' started by Mark Holtz, Jul 1, 2018.

  1. Jul 1, 2018 #1 of 20
    Mark Holtz

    Mark Holtz Day Sleeper

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    From Atlas Obscura:

    The Unexpected Logic Behind Area Codes
    Why aren’t they laid out in an obvious way, like ZIP Codes are?
    FULL ARTICLE HERE
     
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  2. Jul 1, 2018 #2 of 20
    James Long

    James Long Ready for Uplink! Staff Member Super Moderator DBSTalk Club

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    A decent article, although it does drift from the chronological truth. And as the article explains, Area Codes are laid out in an obvious way - once the logic has been explained. And once one considers how phones were dialed in 1947.

    Having the second digit of an area code be zero or one was connected with having the second digit of a local exchange NOT be a zero or one. Local exchange names began with names such as "Alexander 1". Converted to digits "Alexander 1" would be dialed "251". With no letters assigned to zero or one, using those digits for an Area Code made perfect sense. If an operator dialed 20 or 21 they intended an area code, if they dialed 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 or 29 they intended a local exchange.

    Bellcore started with two tables ... one with the center digit one and one with the center digit zero. For states (and DC) that would be assigned a single area code they gave the shorter codes to the more populated states. DC being an exception getting the 202 area code due to its importance. Where a state was large enough to have multiple area codes (in 1947) the center digit was one. The concept being that people in single area code states would not dial their area code and people in multiple area code states would dial neighboring area codes.

    So imagine yourself in Indiana (my home state). In 1947 Bellcore assigned two area codes to Indiana, "317" covered Indianapolis and everything north, "812" covered everything south of Indianapolis. In 1947 an operator in South Bend would not have needed an area code to connect a call to Indianapolis. The seven digit phone numbers would have been unique. With direct digit dialing seven digits would have worked to dial anyone within the area code (although most phone companies required a long distance code such as dialing "1" before a long distance number).

    Indiana is a good example of the politics behind assigning area codes. As noted, area codes were assigned by Bellcore - which was the central company of the Bell Operating System. Most of the area assigned "317" was not served by Bell companies. General Telephone and other companies (United Telephone and independent companies) served many of the cities in Indiana. The Bell Companies and General Telephone were fierce competitors and there were issues interconnecting between their two systems. There are stories of people in Chicago (serviced by Bell) having trouble reaching Lafayette Indiana (serviced by GTE) because of this conflict.

    The very first area code change after the 1947 introduction came in 1948 when Bellcore divided the 317 area code into two codes ... 317 remained in central Indiana and 219 was assigned in northern Indiana.

    As number use grew dialing rules needed to be changed. First to fall was reserving zero and one as the center digit of area codes. Local exchanges were introduced with one or zero in the center. The cost of this change was requiring a change in dialing. Where people once dialed 1+ to denote long distance, 1+ told the system that an area code followed. For example, in the 1980s I could dial 1+seven digits to reach any long distance number within my area code ... but when local numbers such as 202-xxxx were introduced, dialing 1+202-xxxx would not have worked ... the system would have thought I was calling DC. So following the "new rule" of 1+ means area code follows, people would dial 1+219-202-xxxx to reach that number long distance or 202-xxxx to reach that number if it was local and with one's area code.

    Eventually the country ran out of area codes that had a one or zero in the center ... but with the "1+ means area code follows" rule the industry was able to assign other digits as the center of an area code.

    The article mentions reserved codes. The reservations in 1947 were simple ... numbers ending 11 (such as 411 and 911) were reserved for special services. These reservations remain. (There will not be an area code 911 or a local exchange 911. There should not be any other x11 area or exchange code.) The x00 numbers were also reserved. Reservations have now been made for future expansion beyond 10 digit telephone numbers.

    The big debate when most of the new codes were introduced was whether to divide an area code (changing the area code number of half of the residents and businesses) or overlay a new area code (requiring 10 or 11 digit dialing for all residents or businesses within that area). My area code (formerly 219) was one of the last to "split" ... but northern Indiana is more easily divided into three than two. We have NW Indiana which has close ties to Chicago, NE Indiana which centers on Fort Wayne and NC Indiana which centers on South Bend. Fortunately the industry allowed Indiana to perform a three way split assigning 260 and 574 to areas that were part of 219.

    No splits have been approved since 2007. I doubt another split will be considered, even in large geographical areas where a split would make sense. "Keeping your number" has won over "keeping the way you dial". And there are some places in the country where "the way you dial" is pretty stupid. Areas of Chicago where every call is dialed 11 digits (local or long distance). Seven and ten digit dialing is not allowed. Which make sense in Chicago but no so much sense in rural areas.

    As a cell phone user I have adjusted to dialing 10 digits on every call and believe that 10 digit dialing should be allowed by every phone company. I also believe 11 digit dialing should be allowed by every phone company. Note the word "allowed" for 10 and 11 digit dialing, not required. The phone industry has also reserved numbers to make this possible. "574-574-xxxx" numbers will never be assigned so it makes it easy for a modern phone switch to see that if a customer dials 574- they want to reach area code 574-xxx-xxxx not a local number.

    BTW: We owe the invention of dial telephones and the removal of operators to undertaker Almon Brown Strowger and the way operators treated his business. Back in the day of operators, people would pick up the phone and ask an operator to connect the call. People in his town would pick up the phone and ask for "the undertaker" and operators would connect the call to his competition. He felt this was unfair so in 1889 he invented a device to remove the operator from the equation and make it possible for callers to connect their own calls by dialing digits.

    Modern phone users probably have a problem imagining going through an operator for every call or every long distance call. Direct digit dialing has become so common (including direct inward dialing to employee's desks at companies) that the operator has nearly become obsolete.
     
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  3. Jul 1, 2018 #3 of 20
    Mark Holtz

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    Where I live, we had the 530 area code split off from 916 back on November 1st, 1997. In the past year, we had the 279 area code put down as a overlay for 916 on March 10th, 2018. A split was considered, but it would have lead to another quick number exhaustion, thus everyone had to get used to ten digit dialing.

    Here is one thing the article ignores. When you dial one through nine on a rotary phone, you get one through nine clicks. For "zero", they used ten clicks, thus dialing a zero took longer.

    Also, another restriction is three consecutive digits in area codes. in 1997, a push to have Las Vegas assigned area code 777 was effectively nixed, and in 1998, Las Vegas got 702 while the rest of Nevada got 775. Then, in May, 2014, 725 got overlaid on Las Vegas's 702.

    Another bit of trivia... the 212 area code in New York City is a prized area code, and people will pay big money for a phone number in that area code. It's one of the original 86 area codes, and having it is a sign of living in New York City for a long long time.
     
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  4. Jul 1, 2018 #4 of 20
    James Long

    James Long Ready for Uplink! Staff Member Super Moderator DBSTalk Club

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    Per the article: "The largest and most prominent cities got the best codes, while smaller states had to drag the zero all the way around, almost as a punishment of sorts for not being bigger."

    As I noted, most calls were within their own area code or state. The "punishment" was not for the dialers in that state as much as for those calling the single code states. "Back in the day" most people did not need to dial their own area code when making a long distance call.

    Area code stigma plays a large part in code assignment. NYC was the home of the first overlay when 917 was overlaid as a cellular phone and pager area code. That practice is no longer allowed.
    Why New Yorkers will always judge you for your area code | NY Post 2015

    Indianapolis (which kept 317) recently was given an overlay number which may end up being very popular: 463. On a phone with letters that spells "IND" (sorry Vegas). I expect there will be immediate demand for the 463-425-2xxxx block of numbers. 317 covers a geographic area where nearly all calls are local so there would be no logical split line and I did not object to that overlay.

    Sometimes the plan simply falls together. In Michigan 616 was split into 269 and 616 in 2002 (following the split of 231 from 616 in 1999 and 907 from 616 in 1961). In Indiana 219 was split into 219/574/260. Which area received each code in Indiana was chosen by lottery and the Gary/Hammond area happened to get 219, the Fort Wayne area happened to get 260 and the South Bend area happened to get 574. 269 borders all three codes but the most populated section of the border is where 269 borders 574. Places where 219 borders 269 and 260 borders 269 affect less people. The lottery chose the best result.
     
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  5. Jul 1, 2018 #5 of 20
    NYDutch

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    The 17 county upstate NY 518 area code territory recently had the 838 area code overlayed over the same territory. New and changed services may be assigned the 838 area code, and after a few months of transition, all service in the combined area code territory requires dialing the full 10 digits.

    At least that's better than what we had "back in the day". For many years where we lived, the territorial line between Bell's NY Telephone and General Telephone ran down the middle of the street. That left us with a situation where we could call friends 50 miles away for free, but calling the neighbor across the street cost a long distance charge. For an extra "foreign exchange" fee, we could get service from the other company, so some of us had phones from both companies. I remember friends on General Tel calling me up and asking me to call a friend in the NY Tel area. Once the connection was made, I'd hold the two phones together so they could talk to each other. Good times! :rolleyes:
     
  6. Jul 1, 2018 #6 of 20
    James Long

    James Long Ready for Uplink! Staff Member Super Moderator DBSTalk Club

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    It sounds like your "back in the day" was when the companies hated each other. Decades later Nynex and Bell Atlantic merged with General Telephone (hello Verizon Communications). My area is "rural" so Verizon eventually sold it off to Frontier so they could concentrate on more populated areas.

    Hopefully your "across the street" long distance problem was solved. There are still places where there is a line. Usually it is a state line or county line.

    Frontier does a decent job on business services (next day repair and quick installation). I have had poor experience with residential service (a hum they cannot repair and telephone service outages that took two weeks to repair). DSL stayed up during the telephone outage or I would have dumped their service a long time ago at home. July 5th will be my independence day from Frontier (and wired phone carriers).
     
  7. Jul 1, 2018 #7 of 20
    NYDutch

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    Yes, my "back in the day" goes back to a time when party lines were common, and private lines a luxury. Our "across the street" issue was finally solved when NY Tel bought out a couple of mom & pop single town telcos. That left the relatively small local GT territory completed surrounded by NYT, and eventually they negotiated a territory swap that let them both consolidate services. The dividing line between the village and township also ran down our street, so we paid township property taxes, and across the street paid village property taxes.

    We had a progressively Continental/General/Frontier POTS line at our summer cottage for years, but when we remodeled it for year round living for when we give up full time RV life, we dropped the dedicated landline. Instead, we use an Obi Hai analog telephone adapter and a $35/year VOIP service from Phone Power connected to our cable Internet service there. We also use Phone Power's app on our phones on the road at times when our Verizon phone signal is weak, but our AT&T hotspot signal is strong.
     
  8. Jul 1, 2018 #8 of 20
    AntAltMike

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    Back as late as the late 1970s, you could sometimes coax your local phone company into giving you a double zero XXX-XX00 number by telling them you were going to be a big customer and wanted to start with maybe four lines now XX00-XX03 and that you would be building from there, and you could then drop the extra lines as soon as you dared, probably best done after a phone book had been published.

    Not really related, but I like to tell it anyway. In Western Massachusetts and in northern New Hampshire, they continued to use some old phone systems that supported five digit direct dialing into the 1980s, and even after it was discontinued, people there had developed the habit of saying their number as two digits, pause, then five digits, whereas the rest of us say, three digits, pause and then the other four. A friend of mine had four of the same digit in a row in his seven digit number, and when he'd say XX-3333X, the person he said it to would always say "Huh?" because they got confused by it.

    I had a friend who had a "party line" at least into the early 1980s. He was well-to-do financially, but he just thought it was a waste of money to have a line all to yourself when he could save a dollar or two a month by sharing it. When he bought an answering machine (before they became legal to use), he couldn't use it because it picked up when the other number was being rung, so he wound up selling it to me, cheap.
     
  9. Jul 1, 2018 #9 of 20
    NYDutch

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    The original Continental phone service at our then summer cottage was a 13-party line. That actually worked out pretty well for us when we visited the neighbors. We would all just listen for our own ring, and could answer no matter which place we were at. Later on, we were dropped down to a 4-party line, and since two of the families on it had teenagers, making or receiving a call was a hassle, since they tied up the line so much talking to their friends. When I eventually joined the county search and rescue team, I was pleased to find that it included a private line benefit from the phone company to support a calling tree.
     
  10. scooper

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    I dropped POTS over 5 years ago when I changed from Centurylink DSL service to (then) Time Warner cable Internet - home phoneline went to VoIP company Callcentric with the same number. We're getting ready to move to Kansas City KS, but we are planning on keeping both Callcentric and our current phone number. For that matter - I expect that both of us will keep our current cell phone numbers for the foreseable future (unless Verizon Wireless and Republic wireless don't allow this).
     
  11. AntAltMike

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    I forwarded the article link to a telephone junkie friend, the one who first told me about Esquire's 1971 article about the Blue Box, and he said the reason that sparsely populated western Massachusetts got 413, rather than Boston, which got 617, was that 413 was assigned early, as part of some testing of dialing with area
    codes, and predates NANPA numbering.
     
  12. James Long

    James Long Ready for Uplink! Staff Member Super Moderator DBSTalk Club

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  13. TheRatPatrol

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    Think we’ll every run out of area codes or phone numbers?
     
  14. James Long

    James Long Ready for Uplink! Staff Member Super Moderator DBSTalk Club

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    Not in my life time.

    At the turn of the century it was predicted that we would need longer numbers within a couple of decades. But number pooling, portability and other conservation measures have lowered the demand for new numbers.

    Planners are working on "longer than 10 digit numbers". There are several options but I don't believe we will need them in the next 40 years. And while I may not be dead, I'll probably not care.

    The official answer: "The projected NANP exhaust date is beyond 2048."
     
  15. billsharpe

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    I remember as a child in the 30's that we had a party line, distinguished by a letter at the end,. Calls in and out went by voice to the operator -- no dials on our single phone then. Our number was Clearbrook 5739J. A three-minute long distance phone call from Philadelphia to New York cost about $2 back then.
     
  16. Mark Holtz

    Mark Holtz Day Sleeper

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    I think the need for phone numbers are changing because of the following:
    • Pagers are no longer in use.
    • Dial-up Internet is practically dead, thus no need for phone numbers for modems (or separate lines for modems)
    • It's a common trend nowadays to just have a mobile number and forgo an actual land line. Even your "landline" isn't a landline, it is a VoIP phone connection.
     
  17. NYDutch

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    On the other hand, many of us have multiple phone numbers now, where we used to only have one or two. My wife and I each have numbers for our cell phones, plus we each have a Google Voice number. Our two cell hotspots each have their own numbers, and our cottage "landline" VOIP service has another number. That's seven numbers where we used to have just two, one for our house, and one for the cottage.
     
  18. James Long

    James Long Ready for Uplink! Staff Member Super Moderator DBSTalk Club

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    It is a trade off.

    It is true that modem pools are practically gone. But depending on how they were provisioned the ISP side may not have consumed as many numbers as lines provided. A 23/24 circuit PRI/T1 which could serve 56/64K modems could be provisioned with one number. Several circuits tied together to create a larger modem bank would not need separate public telephone numbers (the telephone company would refer to them by circuit ID). 15 years ago when I had my last dialup ISP I paid the extra cost for a modem line for my home so I would not tie up the voice line when online. That separate line went away but I still consume more than one number.

    The wasteful side of a PRI/T1 is the numbering range attached. In my area a PRI (23 voice lines, one data circuit for control) costs about the same as nine individual voice lines. If the business is big enough to need nine lines a 23 line PRI would be a better choice (especially if those nine lines get full or direct inward dialing is desired). In my area these are normally sold with a block of 20 numbers but there are phone companies that sell packages that include 100 numbers as part of the deal. Whether all 20 (or 100) numbers are needed or not. Planning "for the future" telephone companies have set aside blocks of 100 numbers for future businesses. Thousands of unused numbers waiting for a business?

    Pagers (and fax machines) are still in use. Pagers remain a reliable form of communication although people are moving over to less reliable text messaging and internet messaging. The move is being made by people who already own a smart phone and do not want to carry another device (although they scream when their text/internet messaging does not work as well as their pager did). That is part of the trade off. And while I no longer have a separate modem line I have an eFax number consuming a local phone number.

    From the home side I'd agree that physical line usage has dropped ... but it has been replaced by giving everyone a phone number. When I was living with my parents we had one phone number per household, regardless of the number of people. Now the "everyone has a cell phone" attitude means more than one number per household ... for most households dad and mom have their own numbers and the kids will have their own numbers on each phone. None of them may be a landline but they are consuming a number. Moving my home phone to VOIP did not release the number ... I am still consuming that number on the VOIP service.

    The biggest change in the past 20 years is portability (take your number to your new phone company) and 1000 block assignments. 30 years ago if a new phone company came to town to offer cellular or pager service or competitive local service they would have been assigned a full block of 10,000 numbers for their use. Now telephone companies request new numbers in 1000 blocks and have to demonstrate a need for each new block of numbers. Telephone companies are encouraged to return 1000 blocks to the unassigned pools.
     
  19. scooper

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    I'm with you - back in 1995 when we moved into this house, we explicitly got 2 phonelines - one for voice, one for dialup internet (that was almost always on when we were at home). The wife even got a 3rd line when she tried a homebased business. For now - all we need are the 3 numbers - her cell, my cell, and the Voip houseline.
     
  20. billsharpe

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    We each added cell phones a couple years ago but still keep a house line, which is now FiOS Digital Voice. We have had the same basic phone number since 1970; the area code has changed and we now have to dial a 1 before all calls. Service provider was originally General Telephone, then Verizon, then Frontier.

    I last used my cell phone to locate my wife at Costco yesterday. I was at the hearing aid counter; she was in "Paper Towels."
     

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