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715 area code running out of numbers

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) meets today (Thursday) and will continue its discussion on the future of the 715 and 920 area codes.

On the agenda is "area code relief," which involves adding a new area code in all or part of the area served by an existing area code that is running out of telephone numbers.

According to the most recent projections, the 715 area code is expected to run out of telephone number prefixes (the firstst 3 digits of a 7-digit phone number) by the first quarter of 2011, while the 920 area code is expected to run out of telephone number prefixes by mid-2011.

The two methods used to provide area code relief are either a geographic split or an overlay.

With a geographic split, the geographic area served by an existing area code is split into two smaller areas. One of the sections will retain the existing area code while the other section will receive a new area code.

In Wisconsin, the current 262 and 920 area codes were created when the 414 area code was split on two previous occasions. With a geographic split, seven-digit dialing is retained for most local calls but about half the current 715 customers will need to change their area code.

With an overlay, a new area code is introduced within the same geographic region as the area code that is exhausting. All current customers will keep their current area code and telephone number.

However, because both area codes reside within the same geographic area, all local calls must be dialed using the area code and the seven-digit telephone number (10-digit dialing). This 10-digit dialing requirement is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.

The decision for the PSC is not whether to implement area code relief (a new area code must be introduced once an area code approaches exhaust), but how to implement it.

The PSC will be considering whether to use an overlay or a split in the 715 and 920 area codes and, if a split is chosen, where to draw the line between the new and existing area codes.

The first petition with the PSC seeking relief in the 715 area code was received on Aug. 9, 2002. That petition identified six relief alternatives; one overlay and five split options, but recommended an overlay for the 715 area code.

Since then, several numbering conservation measures have been implemented that helped to extend the projected life of the 715 area code by approximately five years. However, exhaust of the current area code is now approaching and a new area code is required.