States no longer banned from seeking area codes for cell phones and pagers

Monday, December 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ States may seek new area codes exclusively for cell phones and pagers now that the government has lifted a ban on the practice, hoping to address the pressing demand for telephone numbers.

Area codes have multiplied to cope with the explosion in technology _ the separate lines for computers, cell phones, faxes and pagers. Regions have responded to the demand by splitting up area codes among geographic areas or laying another area code over an existing one.

The Federal Communications Commission banned such ``overlays'' dedicated to specific kinds of technology in 1996. The agency enacted the ban because it considered separate area codes for cell phones and pagers unfair to wireless companies _ people would have to dial 10 digits instead of seven to reach wireless customers.

But states including California, Massachusetts and Ohio have been asking for ways to prevent existing area codes from running out of phone numbers, the agency said.

The commission will now hear proposals from states on how they intend to conserve area codes on a case-by-case basis, including plans to use technology-specific area codes.

``Allowing states such flexibility in how to address numbering issues is crucial,'' FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin said in a statement. ``The states are on the front lines of this battle.''

The FTC voted 4-0 on Wednesday to lift the ban.

Wireless companies have opposed the device-specific area codes as inconvenient.

``The wireless industry is acutely aware of the need for additional numbers,'' said Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the industry's top lobbying group. ``But as we bring new services and new choices to consumers, we must not punish them with onerous or discriminatory requirements such as 10-digit dialing.''