About 20 people attended a hearing conducted by the Pa. Public Utility Commission (PUC) last night in Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall regarding the future of the "570" area code.

The one thing they overwhelmingly agreed on is that an area code overlay would be better than splitting the area code region. An overlay would involve integrating a new area code into the 570 region.

Last night's hearing was one of four being held this week by PUC Administrative Law Judge Ember J. Jandebeur. She stressed that the hearings are being conducted for public input, and that the PUC will be making the final decision. It's not known when the decision will occur.

It was noted that the 570 area code is expected to run out of all usable, three-digit prefixes by the third quarter of 2011.

About seven residents offered testimony after a slide presentation revealed four options.

Three of the options involved cutting the 570 area into two segments, with one section keeping the 570 code while the other would be given a new area code.

One of those segments was sliced as such that Carbon County could potentially be divided into three area codes: 570, the newly assigned one, and 610, which residents of the Lehighton and Palmerton areas presently possess. The 610 numbers will not be changed regardless of what decision occurs.

Under the aforementioned proposal, the area code for Summit Hill, Lansford, and Mahoning Township would be different than the area code in Jim Thorpe and Kidder Township.

All three splits that are proposed would slice through Schuylkill County.

State Representative Keith McCall was unable to attend because of illness, but a statement from him was entered into the records. It was read by Nikki Jones, a member of his staff.

He said, "It is imperative that the PUC is granted authority by the FCC to implement number conservation methods to determine whether numbers in the 570 area code are being used efficiently. If the determination is made that an additional area code is needed, I ask that the PUC implement an overlay, as this alternative is the least burdensome to residents."

One thing the overlay would do is compel local residents to use 10 digit dialing.

Carol Wanyo of Beaver Meadows asked if this meant you wouldn't need 11 digit dialing to call outside the region. She explained that when calling another area, you must dial "1" before the 10 digit number.

Wayne Milby, representing Neustar, an independent firm which analyzes and makes recommendations on area code changes to the PUC, said the "1" will still need to be used.

A representative of Verizon attended the meeting and stated his firm is on record for supporting an overlay of a new area code.

William Hunsicker of Nesquehoning asked if cell phones could just be assigned a new area code. It was explained by the Verizon representative that approval would be required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has rejected such proposals in the past because of it being an unfair competitive feature.

Hunsicker agreed that an overlay would be the best alternative for residents.

Tom Loughery, who owns a hotel in downtown Jim Thorpe, said an area code split could hurt local tourism, especially if it was Jim Thorpe getting the new area code. He said his business is located on many Web sites, including international ones, and it would be very difficult to change the telephone number on all of them. As a result, people having a hard time contacting his business - as well as other local businesses on the sites - could forget about visiting here.

"Changing our area code would be disastrous to us," he told the PUC officials.

He added, "The overlay plan would be much more beneficial to us."

Michael Heery, executive director of the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber favors an overlay.

George Stoffa of Jim Thorpe, speaking as an individual, questioned why a split wouldn't follow county lines.

Milvy explained that the telecommunications industry considers boundaries by rate structures and central offices, rather than maps or geography.

Frank Jacobs of Nesquehoning testified, "The best for our area would definitely be the overlay."

The only opponent to an overlay was Ralph Manento of Saylorsburg, owner of Royal Security Service. He said he has about 3,000 commercial customers and it will be more difficult to reprogram the alarms with an overlay. He spoke on behalf of the Burglar and Fire Alarm Association, of which he is immediate past president.

Judge Jandebeur said the public input segment expires following hearings at 6 p.m. today at the Pa. College of Technology in Williamsport and at 6 p.m. Friday at the Scranton State Office Building.