New area codes to change the way Maryland dials

October 29, 1997


Staff Writer

Hagerstown resident Linda Luther wasn't happy when Maryland switched to 10-digit dialing in May.

When she's in a hurry to reach someone - like her sick father - Luther said she often forgets to dial the 301 area code before a local number and ends up getting a recorded message instead.

The 10-digit dialing system, set up in preparation for two new area codes that will start being used in the state when the current 301 and 410 area codes are exhausted, is cumbersome, she said.

Still, it's preferable to being forced to get a new telephone number, Luther said.

"I picked out my number eight or nine years ago. I like it. And if they changed my number, I'd have a kicking fit," she said.


Phone number loyalty like Luther's isn't unusual, said Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Sandra Arnette.

That's one of the reasons telephone company officials, running out of phone, fax and pager numbers to assign in Maryland, decided to add two area codes - 240 and 443 - for new service orders rather than change existing customers' numbers, Arnette said.

The 240 area code will join 301 in the western part of the state next year, probably around the middle of the year if not sooner, she said.

The 443 area code will be used in the eastern part of the state along with 410 starting in the Glen Burnie area on Nov. 17, Arnette said.

That type of overlapping approach required a statewide change to the 10-digit dialing system because homes and businesses in the same calling area, even in the same building, could end up with different area codes, she said.

The plan was to start assigning both of the new area codes around the end of this year, Arnette said.

But 410 numbers have been going a little faster than expected, and 301 numbers have been going a little slower, she said.

The popularity of fax machines, pagers, cellular phones and extra phone lines has caused area codes to fill up all over the country, leading to the proliferation of new area codes, Arnette said.

"You may have seven or eight numbers assigned to one person easily. It starts to add up," she said.

The telephone company could have done what was done in other states, and carved Maryland up into smaller geographic regions and assigned them new area codes, Arnette said.

However, customers would have ended up with new area codes or, in about half the cases, completely new numbers, she said.

Changed numbers can cost companies a lot in new signage, stationery, business cards, brochures and other printed material, Arnette said.

Even when it isn't costing them anything, a lot of customers simply don't like having their number changed, she said.

The overlapping system has been used in cities before but never on a statewide basis, Arnette said.

In addition to allowing people and businesses to keep the same telephone numbers, the system should keep new numbers in supply for about 11 years, as opposed to a projected seven if new codes were assigned geographically, she said.

It's also less confusing for customers, Arnette said.

After changing all of the Washington County Board of Education's stationery, business cards and literature to reflect a new internal telephone system earlier in the year, Joyce Fritz said she appreciates Bell Atlantic approach.

Another school system-wide update would have cost at least $5,000, possibly a lot more, depending on uncontrollable factors like paper price, said Fritz, who manages the board's in-house publications department.

"Nobody realizes what we go through when things like that happen," she said.

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