With available numbers for the 850 area code expected to run out in March 2022, an additional area code is being pushed for the entire Northwest Florida region.
Florida Public Service Commission staff members were told Friday that the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, which oversees telephone numbering across the U.S. and other countries, supports what is known as an all-services “overlay.”
People in Northwest Florida who have phones with the 850 area code would be able to keep their numbers. But new phones throughout the region would be assigned to the new area code. All local calls in the region would require 10-digit dialing.
Heidi Wayman, an area code relief planner for the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, said such an approach would offer the longest projected timeline before any additional changes are needed. It would have a projected life of 41 years, Wayman said.
The numbering agency also has looked at other alternatives.
For example, one method could apply the additional area code to new phones in the 850 service area and to new phones in other regions across the northern part of the state. That would mean also using the area code in regions served by the 352 area code, including Gainesville; the 904 area code, including Jacksonville; and the 386 area code, including Daytona Beach. But Wayman said such an alternative would run out of numbers in 18 or 19 years.
The numbering agency also doesn’t support splitting the current 850 territory, which includes Tallahassee, Panama City and Pensacola, into two area-code regions.
A reason for preferring an overlay over a split is the proliferation of cell phones, which has caused area codes to run out quicker.
Also, Wayman said that before an area code is split, the goal is for both regions --- the existing area code and the new one --- to have equal projected timelines before future changes are needed.
“In the case of the 850 area code, a split line was not a viable option due to the fact that there was a severe imbalance of lines in the two areas,” Wayman said.
The last regional split occurred in 2007 in New Mexico.
In Florida, the last region to split into a new code occurred in 2001. Florida currently has 18 area codes. The 850 area code region was split from the 904 area code in 1997.
No one appeared at the staff meeting Friday to address the proposals.
At a May 16 meeting, telecommunications industry representatives favored the all-services overlay.
The Public Service Commission is expected to pick an alternative during an Nov. 5 meeting, according to Sakina Deas, a commission public utilities analyst.
Wayman said if the commission votes to split regions into separate codes, Federal Communications Commission approval would be required.
The new code is expected to be in place in 2021.