Daily Breeze

June 27,2002

Technology area code still possible for South Bay

By TOBY ECKERT 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON — California regulators still are considering a special
technology area code for the Los Angeles region that could extend the life of the existing 310 area code for residential and business use, but say they need more guidance from the FCC.

The Federal Communications Commission cleared the way in December for “technology overlays” to accommodate computer-to-computer communications. But the agency has yet to provide much guidance to states that would like to move forward with such plans, said Loretta Lynch, president of the California Public Utilities Commission.

"They didn't tell us what the right circumstances are” for
implementing a special area code, she said.

Lynch was here to testify at a House subcommittee hearing on the
nation's dwindling supply of telephone numbers.

The growing use of cellular phones, pagers and other communication technology has fueled the problem and led to a proliferation of new area codes nationwide, inconveniencing residential and business users. Lynch called 310 “our most threatened area code,” noting that it is projected to be exhausted by mid-2003.

One proposal the PUC is considering is the creation of a special area code for newly installed computers and other devices that merely communicate with other machines, she said. Examples include ATMs, credit card machines and e-mail pagers.

Lynch called on the FCC to study how many phone numbers would be affected by such a move. She said the Los Angeles area was “a prime candidate” for such a study.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Redondo Beach, a member of the subcommittee, backed Lynch's proposal.

“Few issues arouse sharper feelings than this one, and it is critical
that the FCC act to help,” Harman said.

“The FCC needs to figure out how to map these new codes. Technology overlay sounds good, but in practice it has to be accompanied by a number of changes in regulatory policy,” she said.

She did not endorse a special area code for cell phones, which the
wireless industry has strongly resisted.

Lynch said another critical key to extending the life of area codes
is cellular phone number “portability,” which would allow people to keep the same number if they switch to another wireless service provider.

Major wireless companies are resisting an FCC requirement that they implement portability by November.

The companies say the requirement would be costly to implement and lead to higher rates for consumers. But critics say the companies don't want to make it more convenient for customers to switch carriers.

Conventional line phone service providers have been required to offer number portability in major markets since 1999.