Remember that big splash we heard in October about the arrival of mandatory 10-digit dialing to New Hampshire? It’s not really mandatory yet.
Sometimes you can still connect in-state calls with good old seven digits, like 867-5309, no 603 area code necessary.
It’s very hit or miss, however. New Hampshire phone companies are rolling out the 10-digit requirement one switching center or central office at a time. You can skip the 603 only if the call goes through non-updated equipment.
This fact has turned landline phone calls into a game: Dial a New Hampshire number without the area code and see what happens!
(Admittedly, it’s not much of a game. These days I’ll take any entertainment I can get.)
My score at the moment is pretty good: I’m getting through four times out of five without an area code. Your mileage may differ, and I’m sure this percentage will decline as we approach July’s deadline, when 988 becomes a national suicide hotline.
You’ll recall that the new hotline triggered the requirement of dialing 603 because some Portsmouth telephone numbers start with 988. Without an area code, their calls would interfere with it. Incidentally, this is why Maine, which doesn’t have any phone numbers that start with 988, will never need to dial its area code for in-state calls.
I bring all this up because playing my dialing game has raised another question.
On those times when seven-digit-dialing doesn’t go through I hear a recording that tells me to hang up and dial again, using “1 plus the area code”.
This puzzled me. I always thought the initial 1 was required only for out-of-state calls.
Adding to my confusion, I don’t seem to need it, despite what the recording says. Those times when seven digits didn’t work for me, 10 digits without an initial 1 always has.
So what’s up? I asked Jeff McKeefry, who has the very cool title of Director of Switch Engineering at Consolidated Communications, and he told me that it all boils down to Local Calling Areas.
To step back, the need for an initial 1 dates to the post-adolescent phase of the nation’s telephone network. Lots of individual phone networks had grown up in cities and states and connecting them into a dial-only national network, which didn’t need a human operator to figure out where your call was going, was complicated.
The initial 1 was added to alert your nearest phone switch that the call was going outside the local calling area as defined by the technology of your network.
Changes in technology have sidestepped much of this requirement – cell phones, for example, never use an initial 1 because they’re always on their national network – but it has stayed in place for landline calls. Once area codes become required you need that initial 1 for calls inside New Hampshire if calling outside your Local Calling Area.
So what’s your Local Calling Area? Good question.
It usually comprises a half-dozen to a dozen communities around you but it is defined by the technology of the local switching network, which dates back decades, and there’s no no obvious way to figure it out.
The only way I know of to pin down your Local Calling Area is to look in Customer Info Guide in the front of your phone book.
You do have a phone book, don’t you? That sound you hear is millennials laughing.
I have the 2020 yellow pages in a kitchen drawer but I seem to be a rarity. So few people actually read these any more that Consolidated Communications doesn’t mind skimping on proofreading. My page about the local calling area starts with “If you are a Fairpoint Customer …”
As a side note, my landline phone has become increasingly unreliable. The lines on my street date back to the 1970s and water gets into them every time it rains, producing such a loud buzz that calls are almost impossible.
I’ve had repair folk out a half-dozen times over the years from Verizon, Fairpoint and Consolidated, but companies don’t think it’s worth the money to replace all the copper lines for the dying industry of landline phones so the fixes never last.
Consolidated hopes I’ll switch to the fiber-optic system they’re installing. Whatever I do, maybe go the cell-phone-only route, my participation in a technology that dates back to Alexander Graham Bell is probably winding to a close.