Legislation that seeks to avoid a 310 area code split or overlay was approved by a California State Assembly committee Monday, April 25th.

The Utilities and Commerce Committee approved Assembly Bill 1380, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gordon, who represents the local 53rd District.

The bill is also known as the Area Code Conservation and Consumer Protection Act and is designed to protect all area codes in the state.

“This is much-needed legislation to protect consumers in California from premature or unnecessary area code splits,” Gordon said.

“The lack of specific regulation has led to a situation where the carriers [phone companies] have primary control over how number resources are managed,” he said.

Gordon said area code splits and overlays are costly and burdensome for businesses, residents, senior citizens and children.

Splits require phone number changes and overlays require people to dial 11-digit phone numbers even within their own area code.

If approved by the State Assembly, State Senate and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the legislation would set guidelines for phone companies to better manage their unassigned telephone number inventories.

Currently, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which manages phone number resources in the state, relies on inventory reports supplied by the phone companies.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees the telecommunications industry nationwide.

Gordon said there is no state or federal law that allows the PUC to independently monitor phone number inventories.

“It’s definitely a situation where we have the fox guarding the hen house,” Gordon said.

Assembly Bill 1380 specifically:

– establishes guidelines by which phone companies determine their six-month inventory of phone numbers;

– requires phone companies to assess their inventories and file those reports with the PUC every six months;

– requires phone companies to return unused phone numbers; and

– closes loopholes in state regulations that have allowed phone companies to keep unused phone numbers.

A coalition of six phone companies called the Joint Carriers petitioned the PUC in March for a “triggered” overlay in the 310 area code because the companies say the area code is running out of phone numbers.

The Joint Carriers include T-Mobile, Nextel of California, Verizon Wireless, Verizon California, Sprint, Cingular Wireless and SBC.

The phone companies would prepare their networks and “trigger” an overlay when the companies say phone numbers have run out in the 310 area code.

If the petition is approved by the PUC, new customers in the 310 area code would be assigned phone numbers with a 424 area code.

The 310 area code extends from the Malibu area south to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

“We know area code changes are disruptive,” said Susan Lipper, senior manager of government affairs for T-Mobile, at a PUC area code meeting.

Lipper has been assigned to speak on behalf of the Joint Carriers.

“An overlay is the least disruptive option for customers because you get to keep your phone number no matter where you live,” Lipper said.

Overlays involve more than one area code in a geographic area and 11-digit dialing.

Customers would not have to change their current phone numbers.

Overlays differ from area code splits.

In an area code split, customers retain seven-digit dialing but half of the customers would have to change their area code.

The PUC approved a split of the 310 area code as a backup contingency plan in 2000 and has not made any final decisions on a split or an overlay.

The PUC designated Imperial Highway as the 310 area code split line.

Communities north of the highway would be able to keep the 310 area code while communities south of the highway would change to the 424 area code.

In April 1999, an overlay was approved in the 310 area code but denied several months later.

“Consumers expressed strong objection to the overlay and the 11-digit dialing requirements,” said Mary Jo Borak, a representative from the PUC Telecommunications Division.

“People feared they would not know if their neighbors had the same area code as their own or a new one,” Borak said.

Borak said the public outrage was the largest the PUC had seen from the Los Angeles area until the recent energy crisis.

According to the reports sent by the phone companies, the PUC estimates that approximately 2.5 million unused phone numbers are available for customers in the 310 area code.

Michaela Pangilinan, a staff member from the PUC Telecommunications Division, said phone companies get phone numbers from three sources.

Those sources are the companies’ own inventory of phone numbers, the National Pooling Administration and the North American Numbering Plan Administration.

Pangilinan, who collects data on the 310 area code for the PUC, said two million phone numbers for the 310 area code are available in phone company inventories.

The Pooling Administration, which assigns phone numbers in blocks of 1,000 numbers to phone companies, has 307,000 numbers available.

The Numbering Plan Administration, which assigns phone numbers in blocks of 10,000 numbers to phone companies, has 90,000 to 100,000 numbers available.

Gordon said phone numbers are not running out any time soon in the 310 area and that phone companies are mismanaging the number resources.

Assembly Bill 1380 would lengthen the life of any area code in the state and avoid premature exhaustion of phone numbers, Gordon said.

The Santa Monica City Council voted to express support for the bill at a council meeting Tuesday, April 26th.

“We pretty much take it for granted that when you pick up the phone to call your neighbor, you dial seven digits,” said Santa Monica councilmember Kevin McKeown.

“I can live with having to dial 11 digits to call someone in Manhattan Beach but not my neighbor,” he said, of what would happen with an overlay.

Councilmembers prefer that nothing happens to the 310 area code and that no area code split or overlay should occur.

If the PUC were to approve one of the two decisions, Santa Monica wants an area code split.

“An overlay is silly,” said Herb Katz, Santa Monica mayor pro tem.

“Phone numbers in your own house would have two area codes if you get another line or cell phone after the overlay is implemented,” he said.

Lipper said more than 30 major cities nationwide use overlays and that Atlanta and Dallas use an overlay on top of another overlay.

“Across the country, overlays have become the preferred method of area code relief,” she said.

“In other cities where we have done this, people have been able to adapt with some education and transition time,” she said.

The PUC held public meetings on 310 area code issues last week, and residents and business owners were divided.

Residents prefer an area code split so that they have geographic association with a specific area code, all phone numbers in the same neighborhood have the same area code and seven-digit dialing is retained.

Business owners prefer an overlay so that they won’t have to change their phone numbers.

A phone number change means businesses would have to change letterhead, business cards, writing utensils and all other office supplies that state the old phone number.

“The addition of new area codes creates substantial cost and inconvenience for businesses and residents,” Borak said.

“The objective is to avoid new area codes whenever possible, and the PUC has been fairly successful in doing that,” she said.