BY ARTHUR FOULKES
(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE — How to deal with Indiana’s drying up 812 area code was the focus of a short public hearing this week in Terre Haute.
The 812 area code, which serves the Southern third of Indiana, is expected to run out of numbers in 2015. The first public hearing on how to deal with the problem took place in City Hall, hosted by two members of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, which must decide the issue.
Only three witnesses spoke under oath to IURC commissioners Larry Landis and Kari Bennett. Two of those witnesses, representing business and industry, said they favored the “overlay” solution, which would allow existing 812 customers to keep their phone numbers but would assign a different area code to all new telephone lines beginning in 2015.
That solution would require the dialing of an area code even for local calls. That’s because even neighbors could have different area codes once the overlay is implemented. The plus side of the overlay solution is that all existing 812 customers could keep their current telephone numbers, industry representatives noted.
In contrast, another possible solution would be the “geographic split,” requiring a portion of the 812 region to adopt an entirely different area code. That would require about half of the customers in the 812 region to have new telephone numbers, said Alan Matsumoto of CenturyLink, a telecommunications company with operations in Indiana.
Ken Brengle, president of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in favor of the overlay solution. He said it would spare businesses the expense of reprinting stationery or making other costly changes associated with new telephone numbers. Changing telephone numbers would amount to a “tremendous cost, especially to the small business community,” Brengle said.
The lone note of caution in the 20-minute hearing came from Brad Speidel, information technology director for the city of Terre Haute. His concern came in light of the city’s recent investment in a 311 system for city services. An overlay would not affect 911, 811 or 211 services, he noted. “But you don’t say anything about 311,” he said.
Speidel also said he was concerned with the “confusion factor” of the proposed overlay solution.
The IURC, a five-person body appointed by the governor, is expected to make a decision by the end of the year. It has multiple public hearings planned throughout southern Indiana during the next two months, including one Monday evening at Jeffersonville High School.
The 812 area code region is the last of Indiana’s three original area codes to run out of numbers. The others, 317 and 219, ran out within the past 20 years.
The solution in those cases was the geographic split. However, since 2005, the “overwhelming majority” of new area codes in the U.S. have been introduced using the overlay solution, according to the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, which represents customers in utility matters.