Idaho readies for second area code

Idaho residents will soon need to dial 10 digits whenever they pick up the telephone as the state introduces a second area code.

On Nov. 5, a transition period will start in which dialers using 10 and seven digits will have completed calls. Starting Aug. 5, 2017, calls won’t go through when dialers use seven digits, and a month later, on Sept. 5, 2017, Idaho will introduce its second area code of 986.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission staff will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Brammer Building, 1225 Main St. in Lewiston, about the new area code. It is one of five such meetings that will be held around the state and the only one in north central Idaho.

The meeting is to provide information and answer questions from the public about the new area code. The staff won’t be accepting feedback on the change.

The commission has already made its final decision to use a 986 area code as needed for new telephone numbers throughout the state as opposed to giving it to one geographic part of the state and allowing the other part to keep 208.

The approach means that no one will have to change an existing number, but everyone will have to dial 10 digits.

“While the commission acknowledged that 10-digit dialing may be inconvenient for some, the move to 10-digit dialing is inevitable due to advancing technology, regardless of whether Idaho had to acquire a second area code,” according to a news release from the commission.

The commission went that direction at a time when the state is getting close to exhausting the roughly 7.92 million telephone numbers 208 provides for Idaho’s 1.65 million residents.

While the state’s population is much lower than the volume of telephone numbers, the need for new numbers has been proliferating with technology in one of the last states with a single area code.

Many businesses have hundreds of numbers. Security systems, iPads, pagers and medical alert devices are among the technologies that are assigned telephone numbers. Families that used to have a single telephone line now may have a phone for each member.

After 986 is available, some new telephone lines will still be 208 because 208 numbers will be available through business closures, deaths and other circumstances. Telecommunications companies will decide who gets which area codes based on the numbers they have available.

As confusing as that might be, it will not be as expensive and will cause less conflict as it would doing a geographic separation. That had more public support even though the last time a state did one was about eight years ago, said Gene Fadness, a spokesman for the commission.

With a geographic separation, the regions that got the new area code would have had to reprint directories, advertising and business cards, Fadness said.

The split wouldn’t have been a neat divide between north and south because the population areas would have needed to be equally balanced. It could have made the southwestern part of the state one area code and paired the northern sections of the state with its southeastern side, Fadness said.

“We would have had to decide who got the new one and who got 208. That would have caused a huge fight as well.”