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South Bay Hangs On to 310 Area Code For Now

June 04, 2003|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

Opponents of a controversial plan to strip South Bay telephone customers of their 310 area code were handed a small victory Tuesday, when state utility regulators postponed a decision on the matter slated for this week.

The two-week delay, agreed to by California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peavey, will allow regulators to consider an upcoming decision by the Federal Communications Commission that could "free up" hundreds of thousands of new 310 area code telephone numbers and delay any changes.

Several years ago, the PUC proposed adding new area codes to Southern California and other parts of the state, saying that the stock of available telephone numbers with existing area codes was dwindling. Among other changes, the PUC is considering switching the South Bay's area code from 310 to 424.

Opponents of the plan, which include at least one PUC board member, say the switch is unnecessary and poses a hardship to seniors and businesses that must pay expenses associated with a telephone number change, such as alterations to advertising and new stationery. Opponents say that many more telephone numbers are available, but that inefficiency by telephone service carriers has made it appear that very few numbers are left. They say that for years, telephone carriers have held hundreds of thousands of unused telephone numbers in limbo, because of the way phone numbers are distributed.

On June 19, the FCC will consider a measure preventing telephone service carriers from controlling blocks of 1,000 telephone numbers unless they assign at least 250 of them to customers. Currently, carriers can control blocks of 1,000 numbers as long as 100 of them are being used by customers -- a practice that leaves 900 of the block unused.

Opponents of the South Bay change asked the PUC to wait until that decision was made before they acted, saying that if the measure was approved, a change would not be necessary. Peavey agreed to postpone the matter until June 19. Though the meetings will occur on the same day, PUC officials said, the FCC decision will be made first.

The news buoyed opponents of the area code change, who said that if the area code must be changed, it should only apply to fax machines, ATMs and debit machines at stores and gas stations.

"This is great news for South Bay businesses and seniors," said U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice). "Our area code is not out of numbers, and actions the Federal Communications Commission may take later this month and later this year could avoid altogether this hardship."

PUC Commissioner Loretta M. Lynch has opposed the area code change as well, and said Tuesday that the delay could help.

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