Counties may add 475 area code in '06

It's the episode where Elaine freaks out when she gets a new area code. "Did you ever see that one?" Jenkins, 21, asked. "Jerry tells her he can't call her anymore because she's too far away." That's fiction. But in Connecticut, a new area code likely will become a fact for Fairfield and New Haven counties. The state Department of Public Utility Control announced this week the state is running out of 203 numbers. So, anyone needing a new number - land line, cell or fax - will be assigned 475 by the end of 2006. Don't worry. If you have 203 now, you will not have to change your number, said DPUC spokeswoman Beryl Lyons. And 475 would still be a local call. "We're running out of numbers, just like other places in the country," Lyons said. "All of the new devices - every cell phone, every pager, every beeper, every regular phone, computers, every ATM - everything uses a telephone line." The new area code means by the end of 2006 you could have a 203 number, but your new next-door neighbor could have 475. That means lots of 10-digit dialing for local calls, a pain in the neck to Jenkins and others interviewed Thursday. "It's just really annoying," Jenkins said. "It'll make it feel like I don't have neighbors anymore, like I'm dialing another state." Jenkins said she doesn't care about her Ridgefield 203 area code, but she knows people who do. "It kind of does say a lot about you," she said. "It's where you live. It's kind of a snooty thing for some people. Fairfield County and the rich towns are 203, while the whole entire rest of the state is 860." In 1995, officials introduced the 860 area code to most of the state. Heavily populated Fairfield and New Haven counties were allowed to keep the 203 code that once covered the whole state. Lyons said the '95 area code change almost started World War III. Business were hit particularly hard and had to reprint everything from business cards to print ads. "It was horrendous," Lyons said. "People get attached to their area codes. Change is difficult for a lot of people." This time around, state officials decided not to rile individuals and businesses who use the existing 203 area code. "What we'll do is called an overlay," Lyons said. "Nobody's area code is changing. However, all new numbers will go into that new area code. That means 10-digit local dialing. The alternative is to divide the state, and no one wants that." Already, 41 percent of Connecticut phone users have to dial 10 digits. John Huber, a 37-year-old Fairfield man who works in Danbury, said it's a hassle. Huber said he spends too much time on the phone listening to a computer-generated voice telling him "the number isn't complete" or "please dial 1." "I hate the whole situation. Even now when I call somebody one town over, I have to do 1-203," Huber said. "You'd think with all the computers and technology these days they could make some type of automatic system to fix that kind of thing." The new area code "will be just another headache. I've got enough PIN codes and passwords to remember." Phone industry spokesmen said there isn't much they can do. An international group called the North American Numbering Plan Administration recently let the state know it is running low on 203. Technology is to blame, said Beverly Levy, spokeswoman for phone giant SBC Communications. Levy said cell phones and new computer lines have proliferated since the introduction of 860. She said there are 2 million land line phones and about the same number of cell phones in a state with 1.3 million households. She said many homes and businesses have multiple lines for faxes, computers and phone banks. The invasion of the 475 area code shouldn't hurt businesses, Lyons said. Stephen Bull, president of the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce, said people will just have to get used to the new numbers. He said the introduction of a new area code is better than forcing people to change their area codes. "I can't imagine it will cause much of a problem," Bull said. "Like anything else, people will get used to it." Derrick Cole, 21, of Danbury, said area codes don't matter much to people these days, thanks to the proliferation of cell phones that often use separate area codes. "The transition may be the hardest part, but people will get used to it," Cole said. But Brenda Arcieri of Danbury said she'd rather see sections of Fairfield County lose the 203 area code. "It's kind of dumb. If you are right next door to someone, you should not be in another area code. Why don't they section it off?" Arcieri asked. Alfredo De Couto, 49, the new owner of Eagles Cafe, a bar and restaurant at the intersection of West and New streets in Danbury, said the new area code won't bother him. "If they've run out of numbers, what are you going to do?"

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