Exelon Chairman, President, and CEO John W. Rowe, on the proposed merger that would create the largest utility in the United States....
The telephone numbering system is out of control, and regulators can't fix the problem.
The mushrooming of new area codes affects nearly every telephone user in this country. In some regions, the number of digits that must be dialed is increasing too. Seven, 10, 11 digits - how many numbers can consumers be asked to remember?
Area codes are being discussed on editorial pages, around boardrooms and dinner tables, and, thankfully, at state regulatory commissions. The controversy even was the subject of a 1998 "Seinfeld" episode, in which Elaine feared she would "never be able to date again" because no one would believe that the 646 area code she had been assigned actually represented a Manhattan resident. Her fears, though fictional, were mirrored in a recent column of the Wall Street Journal, which compared receiving a number in a new area code to relocating to another planet.
In short, consumers across the country are fed up. Maine is fighting to keep its single area code, which has more than enough numbers to support residents from Kittery to Caribou. At the other end of the spectrum, California has over 25 area codes, with three new ones scheduled for phase in this year. In response, bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress on a bipartisan basis that call upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop an efficient plan for numbering by the end of this year.
Clearly the numbering system is out of control. How did it get this way, and can it be fixed?
Whose Oversight Is It, Anyway?
Pursuant to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Federal Communications Commission has primary jurisdiction over the management of the nation's numbering resources. States have only the limited authority delegated to them by the FCC. To date, that authority has been restricted to the agency allowing state public utility regulators to choose the method of implementing a new area code. That boils down to a straightforward decision of either creating a new area code or "overlaying" an existing geographic area with a new area code (e.g., the overlay of 646 on Manhattan's 212 area and the overlay of 720 on Denver's 303 area). Therefore, while much of the discussion about the need for area codes plays out at the state and local levels, the FCC retains ultimate authority over the matter.
The numbering system in place, however, was created by the telecommunications industry in the 1940s, and grants numbers to telecom carriers according to the geographic location being served. When a new carrier begins serving customers in an area, a number administrator that operates under FCC direction assigns that carrier a block of 10,000 numbers (e.g., 814-0000 to 814-9999).
This system worked quite well in a monopoly with a single provider, because AT&T (or the Baby Bells after the breakup of AT&T) simply went through the 10,000 numbers in sequence until more numbers were needed. With the advent of competition and multiple telecommunications service providers, however, the old method of distributing phone numbers is failing. Now, regardless of the number of