Get set for the 10-digit local telephone call

April 29, 1997


Staff Writer

Today's the last day callers can make local telephone calls in Maryland by dialing only seven digits.

Beginning Thursday, all local calls will require 10 digits.

"It's an issue that's going to impact each and every person in Maryland," said Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Sandra Arnette.

Arnette was in Hagerstown Tuesday to urge customers to make necessary changes to pagers, fax machines, modems and other programmed devices now, before 10-digit dialing becomes mandatory Thursday.

"We don't want someone to pick up the phone on Thursday and say, `What the heck is going on?'" she said during a news conference at the Maryland Theatre.


In the early 1990s, Bell Atlantic thought there were enough available phone numbers in Maryland to last into the next century. But an explosion in the telecommunications industry - with devices like cellular phones, faxes and modems being used every day by many people - started to gobble up those numbers at a higher-than-anticipated rate, Arnette said.

In response, Maryland will be the first state in the nation to switch to 10-digit dialing as part of a plan that will "overlay" two new area codes to the existing 301 and 410 codes.

Locally, the 240 area code will make its debut early next year, after which houses on the same block could have different area codes.

The alternative to an overlay would have been splitting the state into four geographic regions, each with its own area code. But Bell Atlantic, with the approval of state regulators, decided on the overlay because it won't force people to change their existing numbers, Arnette said.

She said that for some businesses, changing an area code could mean extensive alterations to signs, stationery and other company promotions.

"If you have to change all that to accommodate a new number, it can be costly," Arnette said.

She said that splitting the state again - as was done in 1992 when the 410 area code went into use - would result in enough new numbers to last for seven years, but the overlay will result in enough for 11 years.

Tuesday's news conference was part of a $300,000 statewide campaign that Bell Atlantic began a year ago to educate customers about the change. The campaign included newspaper advertisements, billboards and even coloring books for children.

"I think people know this is coming, so I don't think this will be a surprise to anyone," Arnette said.

Still, the company has heard complaints from customers upset that they will have to dial 10 digits to call their next-door neighbors.

Arnette said she's hopeful that people will understand the long-term benefits of making the change, but she's not about to predict what customer reaction will be Thursday morning.

"We're hoping for the best," she said.

The Herald-Mail Articles