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Public Split Over New Santa Clara County Area Code

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LOS GATOS (CBS SF) — Opinions were decidedly split at a public comment meeting in Los Gatos Thursday afternoon about how to address the diminishing supply of phone numbers that use area code 408 in Santa Clara County.

Some telephone users in Santa Clara County, which has a population of more than 1.7 million, may be forced to switch to area code 669 in the coming year because of a depleting reservoir of phone numbers using the existing area code, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The CPUC has presented county residents with two options to resolve the issue in public meetings that began on Wednesday in San Jose.

The first choice, known as a split, would divide a selection of telephone users currently using area code 408 into two groups and then reassign one of the groups to instead use area code 669.

Group one, titled “Area A,” is made up of northern and southern San Jose, Sunnyvale, San Antonio, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy. Area B encompasses western San Jose, Campbell, Saratoga and Los Gatos.

The two-member CPUC panel at Thursday’s meeting declined to say which of the two areas would receive the new area code if the commission opted for a split.

“I think a great injustice has been done here,” said Brad Gordon, a Santa Clara County resident. “In the split option, you haven’t defined what the option is.”

Gordon said most people would choose a split versus the second option, called an overlay, if they knew the split would mean keeping their phone numbers and not being reassigned to area code 669.

CPUC analyst Katherine Morehouse, who sat on Thursday’s panel, said the commission would “never” reveal which group would get the reassignment in their public comment meetings.

“We’re never gonna do that because everybody wants a split if they get to keep their area code,” she said emphatically.

In the overlay option, everyone who had a 408 number would get to keep it, and new customers would be assigned area code 669.

The downside to an overlay is that everyone affected by the overlay would have to dial 1, the area code, and then the person’s phone number, even if the number they are calling has the same area code as theirs.

“I think it would be much more inconvenient to have to dial the extra 1,” said Sylvia Carroll, a San Jose resident of almost 50 years.

Some attendees expressed concerns that dialing 11 digits in the overlay plan would be too much of a strain over the current system of dialing seven numbers.

“We’re a nation of people with what’s going to become a large elderly population with difficulty remembering names or numbers anyway,” said Kathy Morgan, a Santa Clara County resident.

“We can program lots of numbers into our phones, of course. We don’t have to dial 11 digits,” she said. “But if we’re calling a business or anyone we don’t hold near and dear in our own hearts, it’s 11 digits.”

Others believed there existed too great a burden of changing letterhead for their businesses if the CPUC chose the split option.

“Small businesses struggle enough as it is,” said Carey Richard, owner of Pat Richard Insurance Agency in Saratoga. “My company has had the same phone number for more than 40 years and to change it would be extremely frustrating, to say the least.”

Officials expect the supply of phone numbers using area code 408 to run out by the end of 2012, Morehouse said.

She said the CPUC began planning in December to introduce a new area code because the process takes about a year for implementation.

The CPUC began meeting in December with the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, or NANPA, an international numbering plan for the U.S., Canada and several countries in the Caribbean.

The two organizations met with telephone service providers to discuss the best way of implementing a new area code.

The CPUC has two more meetings to collect public opinion.

A 7 p.m. meeting was planned Thursday evening at the Los Gatos Civic Center, and a final meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday in Morgan Hill city council chambers.

Morehouse said she doesn’t know when NANPA, whose managers need to write a plan after the five meetings, will submit its paperwork to the CPUC, but she said she doesn’t expect NANPA officials to do so for at least six months.

Anyone interested in learning more about area code 408 and its current evolution with the proposed area code 669 can visit www.cpuc.ca.gov/408areacode.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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