Hold The Line; County To Get New Area Code

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Don't reorder those business cards yet. The Rim country's area code is changing.

The Arizona Corporation Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to assign a new area code to Gila County and nine other rural counties to keep up with the state's mounting phone number demand for cell phones, fax machines, pagers, modems and second phone lines.

The state's southern counties Cochise, Pima, Pinal and Santa Cruz will retain the 520 area code. All other counties except Maricopa County will get new area codes.

The North American Numbering Plan Administrator, an arm of the Federal Communications Commission, will assign the new numbers in five to 15 days, said Heather Murphy, public information officer for the commission.

A permissive dialing period an adjustment time when callers can use either the new or the old area codes will begin in late June. Mandatory dialing of the new codes will begin Jan. 5, 2002.

Local calls will remain local. Calls that are currently toll calls will remain toll calls.

Without the additional area codes, the 520 prefixes would run out this year, Murphy said.

Nevertheless, local business owners aren't happy about the costly hassles associated with the change, which is being conducted as a "geographic split" to help regions maintain their own area-code identities.

Claudette Patricia, who co-owns Ace Hardware with her husband, John, called the change "a pain in the neck.

"This creates a lot of additional work and expense," she said.

For Beth Myers, owner of Tall Pines Real Estate, the timing couldn't be worse.

"I just ordered new business cards," she said.

Myers, who has signs all over town with her phone number on them, is upset the change is taking place so quickly. "This is going to cost me a fortune, and I hadn't budgeted for it," she said. "My reaction is, 'Ouch.'"

Even George Rogers, owner of Printing By George, who is bracing for a flood of orders for new business cards, letterhead and other items, found little to celebrate.

"It does represent business for me," he said, "but I don't enjoy taking business under those circumstances."

Rogers does think local printers will be able to accommodate the extra jobs. "That kind of thing is usually spread out as supplies of forms and things run out," he said.

The corporation commission rejected an "overlay" option, which adds a new area code to an existing geographic region.

"This means two area codes work in the same area, and new customers requesting service would be assigned the new area code," Murphy said.

The corporation commission rejected that option, in part, to protect the state's geographic identities. The new code is expected to last 12 to 14 years, but that's little solace to business owners like Patricia.

"It doesn't seem all that long since we had to pay to change everything from 602 to 520," she said. "It's not a hassle for the people who made the decision, but it is for those of us who have to live with it."

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