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March 4, 2013

Time to call it quits on 812 area code

Growth of cell phones contributes to shortage of available 812 numbers

TERRE HAUTE — Say good-bye to exclusive 812 area codes in southern Indiana beginning in 2015.

Thanks to the growth in cell phones and other telephone-related technology, the 812 area code is running out of available numbers.

Now it’s up to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, a five-member body appointed by the governor, to decide what to do next.

Tonight, at least two members of the commission will listen to public comments at a 6 o’clock meeting in the Terre Haute City Hall Courtroom.

The commissioners are expected to make a decision by the end of this year, said Anthony Swinger, a spokesman for the Indiana Office of the Utility Consumer Counsel, which represents consumer interests in utility matters.

“This is the opportunity [for the public] to address the commission,” Swinger said.

Before the commission meeting, the OUCC will host an educational session beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The current area code system went into effect in 1947, when Indiana had just three area codes, Swinger noted. In later years, the invention of fax machines, pagers and cell phones started putting a strain on available phone numbers, he said.

The tech boom in the 1990s “really gobbled up numbers in a big way,” Swinger said.

Members of the telecommunications industry are recommending an “overlay” solution in the 812 area code. That means anyone with an existing 812 phone number would keep that number, but new phone numbers issued after the overlay is created in 2015 would have a new area code, Swinger said.

This would require the dialing of the area code even for local calls, according to a petition to the IURC from members of the telecommunication’s industry. That’s because even neighbors might have different area codes.

Overlays are used in several neighboring states, Swinger noted. However, in other parts of Indiana where area codes have been exhausted – around Indianapolis and in northern Indiana – filled area codes were divided, creating new geographic zones with new area codes. That requires customers in the new regions to have new telephone numbers, but avoids the need to dial a 10-digit number for local calls.

The Indiana telecommunications industry also spelled out other options in its petition to the IURC, including some that would divide the 812 zone into new zones. The commissioners are free to choose a solution from that list or something completely different, said Danielle McGrath, a spokeswoman for the IURC.

The next 812 IURC public meetings will take place March 7 in Bloomington and March 11 in Jeffersonville. The 812 area code covers nearly the entire southern third of Indiana.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@trib

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