Dial the area code or no? Why should it still matter?
September 5, 2012 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Why is it that the phone company can't figure out whether or not an area code is needed when dialing - even when I can't - and just dial the number accordingly?

When I'm dialing a number from a land line (or trying to send a fax), I don't always know whether a number in my area code is "local", i.e. doesn't need the area code dialed, or whether it is far enough away to need the area code. If I dial the area code and it isn't needed, I get an error message; if I don't dial the area code and it is needed, I get an error message.

Given that so many people use cell phones, where generally all 10 digits of a number are always used, and given that telco equipment is pretty advanced/computerized (right?), why not just accept 10 digits and complete the call, even if it's a number that doesn't "need" the area code to be dialed?
posted by attercoppe to Technology (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
In my part of the UK, this is what happens: you can omit the area code if you're calling from the same one.
posted by katrielalex at 7:45 AM on September 5, 2012


I haven't had a landline in many years, but even back when I did have one, I remember them switching from "no area code for local #s" to "area codes for ALL calls". Did this not happen everywhere at the same time? Have you tried contacting your service provider to find out what the policy is?
posted by Grither at 7:45 AM on September 5, 2012


Oh, good point Katrielalex... I'm speaking from a US perspective. Where are you located?
posted by Grither at 7:46 AM on September 5, 2012


You don't say where you are, but in the US we're on a 10 digit dialing plan, so no matter where you are, you must dial the full area code and number.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:47 AM on September 5, 2012


You can only get away with 7 digit dialing on a landline in an area where there is only 1 area code.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 7:49 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The OP is in Northern California, IIRC.

Could it be this?
Dialing the 1 tells the electronic switching gear in the central office (CO) that the next three numbers are going to be an area code rather than the three numbers identifying the local exchange.

When the CO doesn’t recognize the first three digits as a local exchange identifier (or prefix) it assumes that a long distance call is involved.

However, when only 10 digits are dialed without a “1″, and the first three digits do not correspond to an area code, the switching gear doesn’t know what to do with the numbers the caller has punched in her/his dial pad even though the CO gear only processes the first seven numbers.
This one seems a little more direct but too short. I came from an overlay area with 10 digit dialing and purposely kept the number because it was annoying to move to a 7 digit area a few counties over.

It sounds like a switching hardware issue. Others seem to wait for the PSC to force/enforce it once overlays are in place.

I remember having to dial 8 numbers in a rural area, or playing "telephone" where we'd call someone in the middle to pass on a message to someone out of our local network, and back again (four free calls to replace one "long distance" one).
posted by tilde at 7:50 AM on September 5, 2012


It's not that it can't be figured out, it's that it's more work for the system to figure it out, because you're asking for the system to use a different database table.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:51 AM on September 5, 2012


You don't say where you are, but in the US we're on a 10 digit dialing plan, so no matter where you are, you must dial the full area code and number.

Is this true? When I am at home in southern California on a landline, in an area code that doesn't have an overlay, I can dial 7 digits and make local calls in the same area code.
posted by andrewesque at 7:54 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I forgot to mention, I'm in a county without an overlay plan; depending on what phone I call from and what number I call to, I may or may not need to add a 1 or the area code (or both).

Generally in this area code:

- POTS line from Bell to POTS line or "local exchange" cell number - 7 digit.
- Virtual line (Vonage, Earthlink, or other) to a "local" number - some are 10, some are 7. May or may not need a 1.
- The fax machine down the hall - 10 digits everywhere, never a 1. No idea what kind of line it is.
- Local cell number (burner phone) - most of the county I don't have to dial 10 digits, can do 7.

Like I said, I figured it would be too annoying to deal with (and when I don't have my cell, I deal), so my cell phone has the area code of where I lived like 10 years ago, so everything is 10 digit (even "local" to it because that county uses overlays and 10 digit dialing).

Ruthless Bunny are you sure you just aren't in an overlay area? Like I said, my current county is 7-digit local, 10-digit in area code but not "local".
posted by tilde at 7:56 AM on September 5, 2012


Never heard of this -- everywhere I've lived in the US, if you dial a local number using the correct local area code, the call goes through just fine. If you dial without the area code, it also goes through just fine.
posted by escabeche at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work for a phone company... and I find this odd.

1+10 digit dialing should always work regardless. What sort of error message are you recieving? Who is your phone company? Is this for a business line or residential?
posted by j03 at 7:58 AM on September 5, 2012


"but in the US we're on a 10 digit dialing plan, so no matter where you are, you must dial the full area code and number."

Not true. Ten-digit dialing is the normal in larger metro areas with several area codes (and usually overlays by now), but 7-digit is still common outside major metros. I'm in a seven-digit dialing area. That said, I can always dial all 10 when making a local call without a problem with my telco, either landline or cell. It still "knows" the call is local.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:04 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, that one is short because it's out of date.

Here's a bit that explains what happens when I dial different numbers.

Test:
Earthlink VOIP to "local" number 7D " Please use an area code when dialing this number "

POTS Bell business line to "local" number 7D - Rings through.

Overlay-area cell phone to overlay-area cell phone number, 7D "To place a call in this area, you must dial the area code and the phone number. For assistance, please dial ...."

POTS Bell business line to "overlay" number 10D "We're sorry, you must first dial one, plus the area code, before dialing this number."

Earthlink VOIP to "overlay" number 10D - Rings through.

POTS Bell business line to "local" number from Google Voice 7D - "We're sorry, you must first dial one, plus the area code, before dialing this number."

Earthlink VOIP to "local" number from Google Voice 10D " Please use an area code when dialing this number "
Don't have the burner phone with the "local" cell number to test.
posted by tilde at 8:09 AM on September 5, 2012


1+10 digit dialing should always work regardless. What sort of error message are you receiving?

Here in GA it doesn't. We have 10-digit dialing, but parts of the area codes we use are local and parts are not. I just tried to dial my home (local) from work using 1+10 and got the message "We're sorry, one or zero or the area code should not be dialed when calling this number. Please hang up and try your call again." Of course, that message is wrong, since the area code is required on all numbers. On the other hand, if you call a number outside the local calling area but within the same area code you get a message telling you a one is required. This behavior seems consistent across all land line carriers. On the other hand, my cell phone works fine with or without the "1", whether the call is long distance or local. So it can be done, I am just guessing the land line carriers don't think it is worth it to upgrade their infrastructure. It might also have to do with charging extra for long distance for people who don't have unlimited long distance plans; if you have to dial a "1" first, you know you will be getting charged extra for that call.
posted by TedW at 8:10 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


POTS Bell - That rings just fine on 7 digit local number - when you dial 10 digits, you get "We're sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed from the phone you are using. Please read the instruction card and dial your number again."

POTS Bell - "non local" but in the same area code - 7 digit fail, 10 digit fail. "We're sorry, you must first dial a 1 and the area code before dialing this number."
posted by tilde at 8:16 AM on September 5, 2012


Ruthless Bunny are you sure you just aren't in an overlay area? Like I said, my current county is 7-digit local, 10-digit in area code but not "local".

Hmmm. I thought that this was a done deal for the whole US. I've been living in overlay areas for over 20 years.


Here's the NANP Admin list of areas requiring 10 Digit Dialing.

As you can see, it's fairly comprehensive.

Well, since we're going old school on this one. You can refer to your local phone book to determine the dialing plan for your area.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2012


j03: "1+10 digit dialing should always work regardless."

Here in Raleigh, NC, the phone companies just recently (like within the last 6 months) started requiring 10-digit dialing, but I get the same "Do I or do I not need a 1 first?" problems mentioned by others. My home phone service is some sort of VOIP provided via Time Warner Cable and at work some sort of mega-institutional VOIP, so perhaps that is the problem?

tilde: "Please read the instruction card and dial your number again."

Instruction card? Hilarious. Reminds me of The Simpsons: "The fingers you are using to dial are... too fat. Please mash the keypad now to obtain a special dialing wand."
posted by Rock Steady at 8:36 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I must say I got a few things wrong in my posts above - three "local" calls to replace one "toll" call in a rural area.

Some of the 10/7 dialing / results were wrong but I'm too hungry (lunch time!) dial all of them all over again.
posted by tilde at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2012


Originally, it was possible to tell whether 3 digits were a Numbering Plan Area (NPA commonly called the "Area Code") or a Central Office Code (NXX or "prefix") because the NPA had a 0 or 1 as the second digit while a NXX had 2 through 9 as the second digit.

If this system had remained in place, it would be possible to differentiate between dialing a 10-digit number like 201-555-1212 and a 7-digit number like 555-1212.

However, the number of area codes available under this system proved to be too few; NPAs with 2 through 9 in the second digit are now used. Similarly, NXXes with a second digit of 0 or 1 are also now used.

Consider a specific example in my area: Eastern Nebraska was area code 402, and the Valentine area used the 531 NXX, so a Valentine number in the 10-digit system would be 402-531-abcd. In the 7-digit system it would be 531-abcd.

But in 2011, eastern Nebraska got a second area code as an overlay: 531. As soon as any 531 number is allocated, it's no longer possible to tell whether a customer in Valentine who has dialed 7 digits starting with "531" has dialed a complete number in the Valentine area, or has dialed only the first 7 digits of an area-code 531 number.

Even if the NXX didn't create ambiguity with the NPA, there's still a problem: The same NXXes will be used in the 402 NPA and the 531 NPA for different customers (otherwise the goal of having more numbers available would not be met) When 402-NXX-ABCD and 531-NXX-ABCD both exist, what would you do when a customer dials NXX-ABCD?

On the other hand, where you don't yet have an overlay you still can't enable transparently dialing either 7- or 10-digit numbers. Interestingly, it turns out that Valentine also has the 402 NXX (402-402-ABCD). So what did the switch have to do when a customer dials 7 digits starting "402", before mandatory 10-digit dialing? It dialed the Valentine number 402-402-ABCD, not wait for additional digits to complete a 10-digit number. 402-ABC-DEFG.
posted by jepler at 10:10 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here in my area code, there are instances where, even when dialing to a number within the area code, you still have to dial the area code. It's confusing as hell.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:47 AM on September 5, 2012


Because some of the new area codes are overlay codes. You are "in" both the old area and the new area. Do you want 213 555 1212 or 646 555 1212 if you only dial 555 1212.

And not all telco equipment is as advanced as you think. There are some pretty old-ass local switches out there. And those are the ones that complain if you dial an area code for a local number.
posted by gjc at 4:49 PM on September 5, 2012


1+10 digit dialing should always work regardless.

Only if you're dialing from a cell phone, not from POTS. Local calls never start with 1 on POTS.

The answer really depends on where you are.

I have a relative who lives in area code AAA, which is near area codes BBB and CCC, both of which have rate centers which are local.

In order to dial long-distance calls in any of the area codes, you must dial 1-NPA-NXX-XXXX.

In order to dial local calls within the area code AAA, you dial NXX-XXXX. 1-AAA-NXX-XXXX and AAA-NXX-XXXX do not work.

In order to dial local calls in area codes BBB or CCC, you must dial NPA-NXX-XXXX. 1-NPA-NXX-XXXX does not work, and NXX-XXXX also doesn't work, even though there was no exchange overlap as of a few years ago.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:24 PM on September 5, 2012


Why is it that the phone company can't figure out whether or not an area code is needed when dialing - even when I can't - and just dial the number accordingly?

Are you referring only to local calls? Or are they toll? In any case, the switch is technologically capable of doing what you suggest. There are other considerations though.


Given that so many people use cell phones, where generally all 10 digits of a number are always used, and given that telco equipment is pretty advanced/computerized (right?), why not just accept 10 digits and complete the call, even if it's a number that doesn't "need" the area code to be dialed?

The former Worldcom/MCI (now know as Verizon Business) local network switches allow this. I'm pretty sure the old Ma Bell local networks don't. Could be due to regulations, could be due to there business practices.


-----
Here was part of my former, long winded, confusing answer that I'll toss in, too, as a bonus. Perhaps someone will find it useful:

The regulation and break-up of Ma Bell, subsequent competition from new players, telcom boom and bust, deregulation, introduction of new switching/routing technologies (Soft switches, VoIP, etc.) and later consolidation of the industry has made for quite a mess when it comes to standardizing and maintaining local phone networks. When switches and networks aren't (or can't be) standardized, it makes automating changes and maintaining the switches more difficult. Lack of automation means humans end up manually updating the switches to conform to the dialing plans. And the humans won't do more than is required by law & their managers, and for good reason. If they screw up the dialing plan and cause an outage while making their changes, the shit hits the fan. Big time.

And different types of local service providers (LECs vs. CLECs) operate according to two different sets of regulations, so this complicates things as well.
posted by fueling depth at 12:42 AM on September 6, 2012


1+10 digit dialing should always work regardless. What sort of error message are you receiving?

This happens to me, at work, in the DFW area. We have about 4 area codes, and sometimes the area code my cell phone belongs to is "local" and sometimes, it's not. I always do 1+10 even for DFW-area phone numbers, out of habit, and the phone starts ringing and then immediately comes back with, "The number you're calling is not a long distance call. Please try your call again" or something like that. Then I just dial the 10 digits, and it goes through.

There is no rhyme or reason. I believe we are on Verizon here.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:45 AM on September 6, 2012


Sorry, should have said that I am in the US, Northern Cali as tilde recalled correctly. The question applies primarily to local calls, I think. The most recent incident that prompted this was trying to send a fax locally. I used the area code just because I always do when calling from a cell phone (99%+ of my calls made), but it didn't go through. Calling from the fax handset got me a message telling me not to dial the area code - which makes me think the switch knows what I'm trying to do but wants me to play along with some weird arbitrary rule and leave off part of the number.

Lots of good stuff here, with some decent anecdata thrown in too. I'll have to go through it more thoroughly a bit later and hand out some bests...in the meantime, next question: when are we going to fix this madness? Hopefully before the Mayapocalypse.
posted by attercoppe at 8:39 AM on September 6, 2012


Lifelong Bay Arean here who remembers when Oakland/Berkeley and the Peninsula were both 415.

IME, one never dials the area code when calling another number within the same area code; one always dials the area code when calling a number in a different area code.
posted by Lexica at 7:26 PM on September 6, 2012


I don't know, but as someone who moves every 3 or so months for work, this infuriates me. Like, listen you stubborn robot, not everyone has lived in this city since birth, you obviously KNOW what an area code is, so how about you cool it with the attitude and do your job?

The people equivalent of this is pizza places that only include the last seven digits of their phone number on the back of hotel keys.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 7:45 PM on September 6, 2012


The people equivalent of this is pizza places that only include the last seven digits of their phone number on the back of hotel keys.

At this point, a 7 digit phone number might as well be written as KLondike 5-2346.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:42 PM on September 6, 2012


the NPA had a 0 or 1 as the second digit

This fact was used in the design of the WWIVnet BBS networking code, circa mid/late 80s. The node number was a 16 bit unsigned int, so it could represent values from 0 - 65535. There needed to be some way of portioning out this space, and the solution that Wayne Bell came up with used the area code of the BBS. If it was x0y, then you got some number in the range xy00 - xy49, and if it was x1y you got a number in the range xy50-xy99. This was a neat idea -- you could derive the area code of a board from looking at the node number, and so when someone signed their name as e.g. "1@9952" you could work out in your head where they were from (assuming you knew enough area codes by heart.)

At some point in the mid 90s the phone companies were out of area codes and started using the ones that didn't conform to the original numbering plan, and this threw a wrench into things for WWIVnet. Of course, there had already been an issue if there were more than 50 boards in a given area code, which was solved by adding a 1 in front and expanding to a 5 digit node number. But the appearance of these new area codes required a complete rethink. I was pretty much out of the BBS scene by 1995 so I don't recall how they handled it, but whatever they came up with I'm sure it wasn't as slick as the original plan.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:46 AM on September 8, 2012


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