Local legislators have requested that the California Public Utilities Commission oppose an effort by telephone companies to split the 310 area code into a 310 and new 424 area code overlay.

Six telephone companies petitioned the commission Wednesday, March 9th, for the overlay. The telephone companies claim that they are running out of phone numbers to assign in the 310 area code.

The companies are Cingular Wireless, Nextel of California, SBC California, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The companies said that residents and businesses with an existing 310 phone number would not have to switch to a 424 phone number.

Under the telephone company proposal, only new customers would receive a 424 phone number.

If the commission approves the petition, the area code split would occur when telephone companies say that phone numbers in the 310 area code have been used up.

The 310 area code includes coastal communities from near Malibu in the north to Rancho Palos Verdes in the south.

Every community in The Argonaut coverage area is located within the 310 area code.

Assemblyman Mike Gordon — of the 53rd Assembly District, which includes the southern portion of the 310 area code — said the petition gives telephone companies too much of the decision-making power.

“The commission is authorized to order the split of an area code when it determines that an area code is nearing exhaustion,” Gordon said.

Gordon said area code splits are costly and inconvenient because businesses have to change their stationery and marketing plans.

Area code splits are also burdensome to senior citizens and disabled people because they would have to change dialing habits and dial a ten-digit phone number instead of a seven-digit phone number.

Gordon was one of three local legislators who sent a letter opposing the petition to commission president Michael Peevey on Monday, March 14th.

The same letter was signed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and Congresswoman Jane Harman.

“We believe it is premature to establish such a system without the appropriate regulatory framework in place to evaluate the current inventory of numbers within 310 or any other area code,” the local officials wrote in their letter.

“The lack of specific regulation in this area has led to a situation where the carriers [telephone companies] have more control over how such resources are managed,” the officials wrote.

Telephone companies asked the commission in last week’s petition to modify commission decisions made in 1999 and 2003 under which telephone company requests for changing the 310 area code were denied.

The requested modifications would grant the telephone companies the right to trigger an area code split.

Commissioners had previously said splitting the 310 area code was not warranted, while telephone companies have repeatedly said an area code split is necessary.

“A triggered overlay is a form of area code relief in which an all-services overlay is implemented at the point where some predetermined number of unassigned numbers remain in a given area code,” the petition claims.

The telephone companies said a triggered area code split is necessary to “ensure that timely area code relief is available when needed.”

Gordon, Knabe and Harman say they oppose the telephone companies having the right to decide an area code split for three reasons:

n There is a current lack of guidelines from the California Public Utilities Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

Telephone companies have not received clear guidance on how they should define their inventory of phone numbers and give customers the best information about options and choices.

n The Public Utilities Commission should adhere to its own policy on the public review process.

Approving the telephone companies’ petition for a triggered area code split would remove public comment and public meetings on the issue.

n A new area code split would create inconsistent dialing patterns within a major metropolitan area.

Customers in the 310 area code would be forced to dial ten-digit phone numbers while the rest of Los Angeles — 213, 818 and 562 area codes — would be dialing seven-digit phone numbers in their local area.

“State and federal regulations and statutes continue to fall short in providing guidelines and framework governing area code inventory management in a manner that adequately protects consumers and businesses,” Gordon said.

Gordon introduced legislation in December that would allow the California Public Utilities Commission to independently track the inventory of phone numbers.

Currently, the commission relies on telephone companies to provide inventory information.

Gordon said telephone companies have been improperly managing their phone number inventories.

The legislation, labeled AB 1380, is also known as the Area Code Conservation and Consumer Protection Act.

“The goal of AB 1380 is to avoid the premature exhaustion of an area code by providing carriers a clear and objective method to assess their inventory needs and require that carriers return or donate surplus numbers,” Gordon said.