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Say hello to area code 838


Reprinted with permission from the Times Union

ALBANY – Welcome to the 838!

That’s the new area code that phone companies will start issuing about a year from now to new customers in the 17-county 518 area code region.

The state Public Service Commission approved the use of a second area code just last week after several months of debate over the plan, which is needed because phone companies are quickly running out of new 10 digit numbers that can be generated using the 518 area code.

But the actual 838 number wasn’t made public until Tuesday, September 20.

“We needed to create a new area code because of strong and robust demand for telecommunication services,” PSC chair Audrey Zibelman said. “With the creation of the new 838 area code, eastern New York is well-positioned to accommodate future growth in this important sector of the economy, and it will ensure that local telephone service remains efficient.”

Those with existing 518 phone numbers won’t have to worry. They will keep their numbers.

Just four months ago, officials with the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, the organization that manages area codes in the U.S., Canada and parts of the Caribbean, predicted that the 518 area code would last until 2019.

But the number is flying off the shelves so quickly now that the new estimate is that it will be exhausted by the third quarter of next year.

The new 838 area code, which will be given out to new customers starting in the third quarter of 2017, is expected to have a lifespan of 49 years, which would mean it will be good through 2065. There are currently 18 area codes in the state.

Although the release of the new 838 area code instantly created speculation as to whether there was an special meaning attached to the three number combination, there isn’t any intrigue behind its creation, according to officials at the federal agency, which is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission.

About 10 years before an area code is expected to be exhausted, the NANPA creates what’s known as a “relief” area code — an area code in waiting, so to speak. The key quality, however, of a relief area code is that it doesn’t cause confusion with the existing area code or neighboring area codes.

“The idea is to find a relief area code that can reduce customer confusion and potentially avoid dialing similarities with surrounding (area codes),” said John Manning, a senior director at NANPA.

The 838 number was reserved back in 2002, but it wasn’t necessarily originally reserved for the 518 area code. As needs change in different localities, the relief area codes can be switched as well, although NANPA declined to explain the exact history of the 838 number.

“There could have been a switch sometime over that time period,” Mr. Manning said.

Over the summer when the PSC was holding public hearings on the need for a second area code, the biggest debate was whether to split the region into two area codes or do an “overlay” in which new customers get the second number and existing customers get to keep their number. The PSC chose the overlay process, which is considered less disrupting.

Next year when the new numbers will start being issued, some may still receive a 518 number. That’s because the 518 region, which spans from the Canadian border to Dutchess County, is broken up into 140 so-called rate centers that are boundaries for billing, local calling and phone number assignments. The less populous rate centers may find that the 518 code does not run out as fast in their areas as the more populated cities, the commission said.

One thing is for certain. As the transition happens, everyone will have use 10 digit dialing when calling someone in the 518 — or the 838 — to ensure that the correct number is dialed.

To contact reporter Larry Rulison email

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