10-digit dialing on way; new area code coming

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 15, 2004

[6/15/04]Phone customers who use a number with a 601 area code will soon need to dial the area code, even when making local calls.

A letter sent by BellSouth to phone customers Monday said an overlay area code will be added to the area in central Mississippi served by the 601 area code. The new area code will be 769.

Customers’ current phone numbers will not change and the local calling area will remain the same. New phone numbers will have the 769 area code.

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An overlay is an additional area code that is added instead of a new area code replacing an old area code in some areas.

Beginning March 14, 2005, all numbers called in Central Mississippi will require 10-digit dialing. Even calls from a 601 number to another 601 number will require 10 digits to be dialed.

Calls from a 601 or 769 number to another area code will be long-distance calls.

A transition period will begin July 19 during which customers may either dial the 10-digit or 7-digit number.

Brian Ray, executive secretary for the Mississippi Public Service Commission, said the North American Numbering Plan Administration, which oversees area codes, notified the commission that Mississippi would need new area codes three years ago.

The commission governs the telecommunications industry in the state.

The administration cited a growing population combined with an increased use of cellular phones and fax machines as the impetus behind the petition, Ray said.

The overlay plan is a better option than giving a part of the current 601 area another area code, said Central District Public Service Commissioner Neilsen Cochran.

“Carving out and establishing a new area code is just putting a Band-Aid on (the problem)” Cochran said. “The overlay gives you a longer period of time before you have to make changes in the system.”

Cochran said the overlay plan would also save businesses the expense of reprogramming their phones because their current number would remain the same.

The 769 area code will be the fourth area code in Mississippi. North Mississippi is served by the 662 area code and South Mississippi uses the 228 area code.

South and North Mississippi will probably have overlays added within three years, Cochran said.