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PSC gathers public input on 315 area code plan in Watertown

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Central and Northern New York’s 315 area code phone numbers are running out fast and the introduction of a new three-digit code in the 18-county region seems inevitable.

The method of doing so, however, is up for debate and it’s another tough call that the state Public Service Commission would have to make “as soon as possible,” according to PSC officials who spoke at a public hearing Tuesday at the Dulles State Office Building.

Jeffrey Wagner, outreach specialist with the commission, said the region is expected to run out of assignable codes in the first quarter of 2015 “at the latest.”

This means service providers will no longer have numbers to hand out to customers in about a year and a half, which is also how long the implementation would take — roughly 18 months.

There are two options on the table: create an overlay district or split the region geographically.

The overlay option would require all customers to dial 10 digits even for local calls, but would allow residents and businesses to keep their existing phone numbers.

New customers would simply receive area code numbers that are available and if the region runs out of phone numbers again, the overlay option can be “easily repeated,” officials said.

Creating an overlay district was the action recommended by a PSC administrative law judge in 2008.

“It’s a lot easier to implement an overlay than a geographical split,” Mr. Wagner said.

For Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, a geographical split would force a new area code onto residents and businesses.

But residents in the metropolitan Utica appear to embrace the latter option as it would retain the association of a region with its area code, PSC officials said.

The geographical split would also allow customers to continue dialing 7 digits without the area code for local calls.

The public was largely absent from Tuesday night’s hearing, but Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, voiced her opposition to the introduction of a new area code in a letter to the PSC last week and a news release Tuesday afternoon.

“Proposals to create a second area code would not only cause undue confusion and inconvenience local residents; it could also cost our businesses valuable dollars,” Mrs. Russell said in a news release Tuesday.

She urged the PSC to further investigate how many inactive phone numbers in our region can be reassigned and said the commission should “consider the metropolitan communities of central New York as a more suitable and less disruptive option if they determine we need a new code.”

Mr. Wagner said central and Northern New York is not the only region facing this problem.

New York state originally had 7 area codes.

Now, the state has 15 area codes — five created by adding overlay districts and three cases of geographical splits.

“We’re not alone. All around the United States we’re running out of numbers,” he said.

The PSC will gather public input until Aug. 16.

People can submit written comments by sending a letter to: Acting Secretary Cohen, NYS Department of Public Service, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, N.Y. 12223-1350. Residents can fill out an online survey at www.askpsc.com or call the commission’s opinion line at 1-800-335-2120.

PSC’s website also has a comment section for the topic at http://wdt.me/psc315.

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