OKLAHOMA CITY — Start saying goodbye to the 405.
With growing demand for phone numbers in central Oklahoma, the area code again is nearing exhaustion, according to the North American Numbering Plan Administrator. The integrated telephone number plan serves 20 North American countries.
The 405 won’t become extinct, but there will soon be two area codes in use across the central Oklahoma region, experts say. Current holders could still keep their existing prefixes if regulators adopt a proposed overlay plan.
The plan would allow new consumers to be issued the new area code so that existing customers can keep their original number instead of splitting the central region into two parts.
Elizabeth Sprague, director of the numbering plan, said Oklahoma’s newest area code has been set in stone for a decade, but it won’t be publicly disclosed until the Oklahoma Corporation Commission issues an order approving the overlay. She said the policy prevents lobbying against pre-selected prefixes.
And even when it is released, implementation could take a while depending on how Oklahoma officials decide to proceed, Sprague said.
The Corporation Commission, which regulates the telecommunications industry, has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Nov. 20 in Oklahoma City. At that hearing, an administrative law judge will hear about the overlay plan and has until Jan. 7 to make a recommendation. The Corporation Commission will then consider the recommendation and issue an order.
It could be early 2020 before that order is issued, said Sarah Terry-Cobo, a spokeswoman for the state agency.
State officials are currently expecting the eventual exhaustion of the 405 around the end of 2021, but it all depends on how many people sign up for new phones, Terry-Cobo said.
The biggest impact current consumers can expect is a mandatory switch to 10-digit dialing, she said. Rather than pressing seven digits, callers will soon have to start dialing 405 before a number, she said. Long-distance calling will not be impacted.
Ron Comingdeer, an Oklahoma City attorney who represents several telephone companies affected by the change, said the industry agreed that the overlay plan would make the most sense in this situation.
Otherwise, they’d have to divvy up the 405 and decide which communities get to keep their current numbers, he said.
The plan also is designed to make the area codes last longer so companies don’t have to add new area codes every five or 10 years, Comingdeer said.
It will take about a year to make the final switch after the Corporation Commission hands out its order.
The industry has six months to get everything ready to go, he said. Then customers have six months to get used to dialing 10 digits where phone companies will remind them about 10-digit dialing.
“After six months, it will be mandatory that you dial 10 digits even if you’re dialing an old number,” Comingdeer said.
Oklahoma’s growing population and new businesses are contributing to the exhaustion of existing area codes, he said.
This will mark the third time in recent years that the state has expanded its area codes.
More than a decade ago, the 405 again reached the point of exhaustion. Rather than using the overlay plan, officials implemented a 580 area code for those living outside the Oklahoma City metro area, he said. That impacted customers in areas like Woodward and Broken Bow.
Then a few years ago, the state exhausted its 918 area code, which serves parts of eastern Oklahoma and Tulsa.
Some new consumers in that part of the state are now being issued numbers with the 539 prefix.
Previous area code switches have been known to cause frustration, he said.
“From my experience, generally, particularly older generations don’t like change,” he said. “It is frustrating for some.”
But he’s hopeful the change will be easy to accept.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.