Too Damn Many Numbers
While cruising over at JimSpot, I came across this post, covering something that is one of my major pet peeves when it comes to the telecommunications industry.
Phone numbers. Or rather, the proliferation of phone numbers.
Here in the US, as in many nations, telecommunications has spread everywhere. There are your plain old telephone system (or POTS) phones, cell phones, one-way pagers, two-way pagers, fax lines, data lines (for those using dialup connections to the ‘net) ad nauseum.
All of these new gadgets and services eat up phone numbers. This has caused more and more area codes to be created, either by splitting existing area codes into two or more or overlaying new ones over old ones. One of the complications of all of this has been the requirement for people to dial 10 digits (or 11 digits if the local phone company also requires you to dial 1 at the beginning) even if you’re only calling your neighbor across the street, rather than dialing 7 digits as has been done since sometime in the 60’s.
Despite protestations to the contrary, it isn’t that phone numbers are being used up at such a prodigious rate, but that phone numbers are being allocated at such a rate.
When a group of phone numbers is allocated to a phone, cell, or pager company, they are given out in blocks of 10,000 numbers. This block of numbers constitutes an ‘exchange’, (i.e. the first three digits in a seven digit phone number is the exchange number). As an example, a block of 10,000 phone numbers is given the exchange of 555. The block of numbers for that exchange run from 555-0000 to 555-9999.
Now what happens if, of those 10,000 numbers allocated to a telecommunications company, only 500 are ever used? It means 9500 numbers in that block are ‘lost’, not usable by anyone else. It is this allocation system that is eating up 10,000 numbers at a time, not the number of phones and so on, actually being used.
My home state of New Hampshire narrowly avoided having to add a second area code because exchange numbers were rapidly being depleted. It took a lot of work with the NHPUC, the FCC, the Regional Bell Operating Company (Verizon), a number of competitive phone companies, cell providers, and pager companies to change how numbers are allocated. Rather than being given out 10,000 numbers at a time, the phone numbers are now given out in blocks of 1000. In other words, if WeekendPundit Telecom wants to get a block of numbers for its new cell phone service, it will receive 1000 numbers: 555-0000 to 555-0999. JimSpot Telecom also wants a block of numbers for a new pager service. It gets its thousand numbers that run from 555-1000 to 555-1999, and so on. Using this system, the worst case scenario will create only 1000 ‘lost’ numbers, greatly reducing the demand for numbers. In effect, the exchange numbers are now 4 digits, i.e. 5550 or 5551, rather the 3 digits. The extensions (the last 4 digits in your phone number) are now 3 digits. The phone numbers won’t look or work any different than anywhere else in the US, they’re just given out differently.
One idea I’ve always liked is that cell phones and pagers should have their own area codes. It’s no different than overlaying area codes as is done now. It’s only how the overlay is performed. POTS lines would be able to keep the ‘original’ area code, while cell phones and pagers would all be given distinct area codes. If memory serves correctly, this was proposed at one time for one state out West, but I have no idea if it was ever implemented. It certainly makes a lot more sense than someone dialing 11 digits for a local call does.
Thanks to Jim over at JimSpot for giving me tonight’s topic.