COLUMBIA — As South Carolina continues to be one of the nation's fastest-growing states, the region that includes Columbia is getting a new area code.
The plan to supplement the state’s oldest area code, 803, with new phone numbers beginning with 839 is expected to start in 2020.
Current numbers in the 803 region, which stretches from Aiken to Rock Hill, will not change. But once the new code is launched, millions of Midlands callers will have to dial the area code before every local number.
The S.C. Public Service Commission approved the plan last month. It’s the second time in recent years that regulators agreed to add area codes to help cover South Carolina’s growing regions.
Regulators added the 854 area code in 2015 to the booming coastal areas from Myrtle Beach to Charleston to Hilton Head Island that have used 843 during the past 20 years.
The Midlands hasn't been growing at the same rate as the coast. But as more Americans go wireless, an increase in smartphone users in densely populated areas like Columbia is sucking up numbers.
That also includes the recent uptick in the use of tablets, wireless devices assigned phone numbers that are almost never used.
"It depends on where you are on the technological spectrum that drives the growth," said Henri Baskins, a Columbia Chamber of Commerce vice president and former Midlands manager with AT&T. "With laptops or tablets, you have to have a lot of phone numbers."
There's nearly as many wireless users as S.C. residents, said Chris Rozycki, a state telecommunications regulator. Among S.C.'s roughly 6 million telephone connections, about two-thirds are wireless.
The North American Numbering Plan Administrator, which plans phone numbers across the nation, requested an additional Midlands area code after the group's analysis showed the region would run out of 803 numbers in the next couple of years.
The 803 area code serviced the entire state from since soon after World War II ended. In 1995, the Upstate was given the 864 area code. The region centered in Greenville is up for a new area code in 2027, according to the most recent projections.
The option of getting a new 803 number in the Midlands won't go away entirely when 839 is added.
There will always be turnover with phone numbers — someone will pass away, or a business will close, giving new customers access to former 803 numbers.
South Carolina had three area codes until a fourth was added to the Lowcounty in October 2015.
For that change, forecasters actually overestimated their projections for the Charleston-area's growth: More than a year after the area added its 854 code, there were several hundred thousand 843 numbers available.
In response, regulators considered merging the 854 area with the Midlands. But they said the separate 839 number would last longer and cause less confusion among callers.