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Unger hopes to stop area code change

February 03, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- Saying it would hurt business in the Eastern Panhandle's vibrant economy and be an inconvenience to residents, state Sen. John Unger hopes to get a state agency to change its mind about changing the telephone area code for Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

The state Public Service Commission has been considering adding a new area code to West Virginia because demand by cell phones, Internet telephone networks, fax machines and businesses that require phone numbers to transmit data is outpacing supply for available phone numbers.

The PSC could choose between a geographic plan or an overlay approach, in which existing customers would retain their current numbers and a new area code would be assigned to new telephone numbers.

The PSC decided to implement a geographic plan that would retain the 304 area code for Charleston, W.Va., and the central and southern counties, but give a new area code to 28 northern and eastern counties, including Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan.

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Unger has objected to the move to change the Eastern Panhandle's area code, saying it could cost individual businesses $5,000 or more to change Web sites, business cards and other stationery, and to make other changes.

And it would be an inconvenience to senior citizens who have been used to having the same number for years, Unger said Sunday.

"It's just not fair to folks. This is very unexpected," Unger said.

Unger said he and Sen. Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, have written a letter to the PSC asking the agency to reconsider the area code plan it adopted and use the overlay system.

PSC spokesman Sarah Robertson has said that the PSC can be asked to reconsider its decision, or opponents can appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Unger is chairman of the Senate committee on transportation and infrastructure, which he says has oversight of the PSC.

Unger said he believes the chances of convincing the PSC to go to an overlay area code approach is "pretty good."

Michael A. Albert, chairman of the PSC, voted against the geographic plan, saying it would be a burden on residents and businesses.

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