HARRISBURG The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday approved an all service distributed overlay as the form of area code relief in the 570 area code.

The Commission voted 5-0 to approve the overlay plan, in an effort to implement the form of area code relief that is the least disruptive.

An overlay plan means that once the existing telephone numbers in the 570 area code are exhausted, new telephone services in that geographic region would be assigned telephone numbers out of the new area code. Ten-digit local dialing would then apply to all telephone calls. The commission held a comment period, followed by public input hearings.

Many of those who participated agreed with the industry's consensus recommendation to implement an all-services distributed overlay for the geographic area covered by the 570 NPA. Because two area codes reside in the same geography, the Federal Communications Commission requires that all calls must be dialed using the area code plus the seven-digit telephone number (10 digits).

Because the area code is expected to exhaust in the third quarter of 2011, the commission is directing the telecommunications industry complete the implementation of the overlay no later than March 1, 2011. However, if the commission's number conservation measures prove to be effective, it is possible that the activation of the overlay could be delayed indefinitely.

When introducing a new area code, a permissive dialing period is allowed while customers adjust to the change. The permissive dialing period will commence approximately three months before the new area code becomes effective. During the permissive dialing period, customers may reach numbers in the area that is to be overlaid by either dialing 10 or seven digits. During the permissive period, a recorded message encourages customers to make calls using 10 digits.

At the end of the permissive period, the mandatory dialing period commences and all calls must be made using the area code plus the seven-digit number. If only the seven-digit number is dialed at this time, the customer will reach a recorded announcement stating they must hang up and redial the number using the area code plus the seven-digit number. This recording will be available permanently.

The permissive deadline period will begin three months prior to the area code numbers running out.

At that time companies will start customer education programs for the new area code, including the fact that when the new overlay area code is finally activated the FCC requires that all calls be made dialing 10 digits, dialing the area code and the seven-digit number.

House Speaker Keith McCall was pleased with the PUC action.

"The people of Carbon County overwhelmingly supported the overlay plan at public hearings and in an online poll I had on my website, so I'm glad to see that the PUC gave so much weight to the opinion of our citizens and businesspeople. Splitting the code would have led to a lot of time and expense for people who had to update their personal and professional contact lists, and definitely would have led to higher costs for businesses that already invested in advertising and correspondence with a phone number that would have changed. The overlay will allow people to keep their number and the change to ten-digit dialing will be eased in as slowly as possible," he said.

"I also plan to continue to push the PUC to allot numbers for exchanges in groups of 1,000 instead of the current 10,000 smaller communities generally don't use all 10,000 numbers available to them, and those numbers go unutilized but right now this overlay is absolutely the best solution. The numbers will run out in 2011, so something had to be done it's good the plan that has the softest impact on existing customers is going to become a reality," McCall said.