Additional digits

Amy Olson

Making a local phone call in the Twin Cities will officially get a little tougher on Sunday.
This weekend, the grace period for calls to phone numbers between the 612 area code and the new 651 area code without dialing 10 digits will expire.
This means that calls from one area code made to the other without using the area code will not connect. Instead, callers will hear a message stating that the area code has changed and is required for calls between the two areas.
The change will affect roughly one-third of the 5 million phone numbers in the Twin Cities area, but calls made between the two areas will not have long-distance charges.
The division occurs roughly along the Minneapolis/St. Paul boundary. This is the first calling area in the nation split along municipal boundaries, said U S West Communications spokeswoman Kim Bothun.
The changes will not directly affect the University, which is served by the Minneapolis phone system. This will allow University phone lines on the St. Paul campus to remain in the 612 area code even though St. Paul and its suburbs will become part of the 651 area, said networking and telecommunications director Carolyn Parnell.
The University has about 30,000 telephone numbers.
The new area code was approved by the utilities commission last year. On July 12, a six-month grace period began to get customers into the habit of using the new area code, said Diane Wells, telecommunications analyst for the Public Utilities Commission.
Even with the six-month grace period, not everyone has had enough time to change their calling habits.
“I’m not always remembering to dial 651 yet either,” Wells said.
After a period of time, prefixes will be reused in both area codes. That period can last as little as one month or as long as a few years, Bothun said.
Callers who forget to use 10-digit dialing for those calls after that could get surprised.
“You’ll get through, but not to the person you were expecting on the other end of the line,” Wells said.
The split, which was required to keep up with the demand for telephone numbers, is part of a nationwide trend. Calling areas throughout the country are running out of numbers to assign because of the proliferation of pagers, cellular phones, fax machines and second lines for Internet connections.
In December, the 717 calling area in central Pennsylvania was divided. That trend will continue as Manhattan’s new overlay plan takes effect in April and parts of Los Angeles and Philadelphia split in July.
This isn’t the last split for the Twin Cities, either. Wells said the Public Utilities Commission will hold hearings about the second proposed split which would tentatively put Richfield and the Fort Snelling area into the 952 area code. If approved, that transition period could begin as early as January 2000.
Even if the utilities commission approves a second geographic split, Bothun said the boundaries would not be clear-cut. Northwest Airlines, whose corporate headquarters are in Eagan, would remain within the 612 area code because they are wired into the Minneapolis network. Similarly, the University of St. Thomas and College of St. Catherine will remain in the 612 area code in the first split.
The addition of a third area code in the Twin Cities could affect the University’s system if an overlay plan is adopted instead of a geographic split. Parnell said the University’s reserved numbers would probably remain in the 612 area code.