As plans move ahead to launch a second area code for the Lowcountry and Pee Dee regions, some elected officials are raising concerns about creating South Carolina's first overlaid area codes.
New area code timeline
A schedule for the roll-out of the new 854 area code was sent to state regulators in February by the North American Numbering Plan Administration, which oversees area code issues. Here's that schedule:
By Sept. 13, 2014, begin customer education and begin preparing networks for the overlay area code.
March 14, 2015, begin permissive 10-digit dialing. That means people in the 843 area code could dial an area code while making a local call, or not. It's a break-in period meant to get people used to dialing 10 digits.
Sept. 19, 2015, mandatory 10-digit dialing begins. All calls made by people who have the 843 area code will require dialing an area code.
Oct. 15, 2015, earliest date the new 854 area code will be activated.
The planned "overlay" means the region will have two area codes - 843 and 854 - and everyone in the region will have to dial at least 10 digits to make a phone call. It's an alternative to dividing the region and giving one-half a different area code, which would require people living there to change phone numbers.
The state's Public Service Commission unanimously approved the overlay plan in December and a timetable has been announced to implement it. Mandatory 10-digit dialing is scheduled to begin in September 2015.
Eugene Platt, a James Island Public Service District commissioner and former Green Party congressional candidate, thinks that splitting the 843 region would be preferable to the overlay. He has been urging state lawmakers to get involved and see if they can change the decision.
An overlay, Platt said in an email to state Rep. Peter McCoy Jr. and Sen. Paul Thurmond, "will not be better for thousands of your constituents who would prefer to dial just seven - rather than ten - digits to reach a neighbor, their church, their lawyer, local businesses, medical practices, or the James Island Public Service District."
McCoy replied that he was "completely shocked" to read about the overlay plan in The Post and Courier last month. The paper also reported on the area code plan in September and December.
"I will take this to the lawyers in Columbia and see what kind of creative solution we can come up with to make this easier for 843 customers," McCoy told Platt in an email.
McCoy said Thursday that he's still researching the issue, and there doesn't seem to be a groundswell of opposition to the overlay concept.
"Aside from my emails with Eugene, I've probably heard from maybe three people about it," he said.
The Public Service Commission had scheduled a hearing on the overlay plan in December but canceled it due to lack of opposition to the plan, which was favored by telecommunication companies.
"There didn't seem to be any opposition, so they issued their ruling," said Nanette Edwards, chief counsel for the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff.
Edwards said no appeals were filed, and no complaints about the area code overlay have been received by the commission in the months since the ruling was made.
A manager with Neustar, which handles area code issues as the administrator for the North American Numbering Plan, said it's not surprising some people would object to having to dial 10 digits to make local calls.
"Local officials want to keep 7-digit dialing, and a split is fine (with them) so long at the other side gets the new area code," said Thomas Foley, senior manager, data analysis, for Neustar. Foley is one of three people in the nation who handles the planning of new area codes.
"Nobody needs to change their phone number with an overlay," Foley said.
He said lots of people don't realize that dialing more digits doesn't mean they'll be charged more for calls.
"We're still operating under the impression that (the overlay plan) is a done deal," Foley said.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.
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