It's official: New area code on tap for 717 region

Written by Brett Sholtis/York Daily Record | Oct 28, 2016 8:25 AM

The state will phase in the new area code over the next nine months.

(Undated) -- Here's the deal: If you already have a 717 phone number, you won't have to change it. However, if you get a new number, you might be assigned a new area code.

The change comes as the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has approved a plan to add a second area code to parts of 16 Central Pennsylvania counties, the Commission said in a Thursday news release.

"It covers the entire geographic area currently covered by 717," said Commission spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen. That includes all of York, Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin and Franklin counties and most of Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

The plan addresses the region's dwindling stock of remaining phone numbers, Hagen-Frederiksen said. An area code can support about 7.9 million phone numbers. The 717 area code has less than 450,000 left and is predicted to run out by late 2017.

During a public comment period, the Commission also considered the option to "split" the 717 region, a move that would have required some people to change their area code. However, the "overlay" option got broad support from regional telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon, as well as area business groups.

"Throughout this process, residents and businesses from across the region offered a strong and clear message -- they want to keep their existing telephone numbers," said Commission Chairman Gladys M. Brown in the news release.

How soon the overlay begins depends on how quickly the remaining 717 numbers are used up, Hagen-Frederiksen said. Once that happens, the Commission will begin to phase in 10-digit dialing.

That has drawn some concern from people who didn't want to dial more numbers to place a call, said Loren Kroh, interim CEO and president of York County Economic Alliance. However, that concern is quickly becoming obsolete as smart phones overtake land-lines in popularity.

His group did a survey of area businesses and saw that most business owners preferred the overlay rather than the "split" option, which could have led them to spend money on new business cards, signs and stationary.

"I think the PUC made a decision based on logic and region," Kroh said. "Personally, it's a pain to have to dial all the extra numbers, but, as people quickly pointed out, that doesn't happen all that often anymore."

Some people also had been concerned that a new area code would bring with it long-distance rates for numbers that are geographically not even far away.

However, the method used to calculate long-distance calls doesn't simply depend on the area code, Hagen-Frederiksen said. People will not have to pay long-distance to call a neighbor, for example.

"If calling your neighbor is a local call, it's going to stay a local call, even if you get the new area code," he said.

The Commission will begin to contact residents as it phases in 10-digit dialing, he said. It hasn't yet determined what the new three-digit number will be.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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