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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

May 27, 1999
Emily Hoffnar 202/418-0253


The Commission today adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice) to consider a variety of measures intended to increase the efficiency with which telecommunications carriers use telephone numbers. This Notice addresses the growing exhaust of numbering resources in this country, as demonstrated by the ever-increasing rate at which new area codes are being assigned. By way of example, in 1991, the United States had 119 area codes in service. Today, that number has almost doubled, with 215 area codes in service, and with over 70 about to exhaust. Current projections show that the North American Numbering Plan (Numbering Plan) may completely run out of area codes within the next ten to fifteen years, if no action is taken. The Notice initiates a comprehensive examination of strategies that will address these problems and could substantially extend the life of the numbering system.

The measures the Commission is examining are intended to slow the rate at which new area codes are required and to prolong the life of the Numbering Plan. The actions that the Commission proposed are designed to promote the pro-competitive policies established by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by fostering the efficient allocation and utilization of numbering resources. As a result, these measures should ensure that new entrants have access to numbers they need to enter into telecommunications markets, and that carriers already providing services are able to expand their offerings.

Frequent area code changes are frustrating, inconvenient, and costly to consumers and industry, and burdensome to communities. When area codes are changed, consumers have to notify acquaintances of the change and reprogram telecommunications and home-alarm equipment, while businesses must reprint stationery, update customer-contact databases, and risk losing old customers who do not have their new area code. If the current Numbering Plan exhausts prematurely, one or more digits may have to be added to the current ten-digit dialing pattern. Estimates show that such an expansion could cost between $50 and $150 billion, and the time to complete such an expansion is estimated to be approximately ten years.

Under the current nationwide numbering scheme, the ten-digit telephone number not only serves as a network "address," but also conveys information to the network about how phone calls should be routed and billed. The number allocation system worked smoothly when one entity (the local exchange carrier) offered only one type of service (wireline telephony) to customers. However, the advent of wireless telecommunications services, the entry of competitive local exchange carriers in the local exchange market, and the use of additional telephone lines to support additional services such as Internet, data, and facsimile services, has dramatically increased the demand for numbering resources. Furthermore, the current system for allocation of numbers relies on voluntary compliance with industry guidelines and, therefore, imposes only limited control over acquisition of numbers by carriers. As a result, for example, it is projected that, between 1992 and 2002, the number of area codes in California will increase from thirteen to 41.

The Commission's Notice builds upon efforts of the North American Numbering Council (NANC), a federal advisory committee composed of industry members, regulatory entities, and consumer groups, as well as on the efforts of state public utility commissions. The purpose of the Notice is to develop comprehensive solutions to the numbering exhaust problem. The Commission seeks to: (1) minimize negative impacts on consumers; (2) ensure sufficient access to numbering resources for all service providers; (3) avoid premature exhaust of the Numbering Plan and the need to expand it; (4) impose the least societal cost possible, in a competitively neutral manner, while obtaining the highest benefit; (5) ensure that no class of carrier or consumer is unduly favored or disfavored; and (6) minimize the incentives for carriers to build large inventories of numbers for which they have no immediate need.

Specific Proposals:

The Commission proposed the following administrative and technical measures that would promote more efficient allocation and use of numbers:

Administrative Standards. First, the Commission asked whether the industry guidelines that govern number allocation should be modified, supplemented or replaced with enforceable federal regulations. The Commission also inquired about measures that would tie the allocation of new numbering resources to a showing of need by the carrier, increase carrier accountability for number utilization through enhanced data reporting and audit requirements, and speed the return of unused numbering resources. The Commission's proposals are intended to ensure that carriers will request numbers only when they need them, and return numbers they no longer need so others can use them.

Number Pooling. Because of the way the network routes telephone calls, telephone numbers currently are allocated to each carrier in blocks of 10,000 for each geographic area, or rate center, to be served, even though they may not need all those numbers. For example, most carriers today use significantly less than 50 percent of the numbers allocated to them. Number pooling allows service providers in a given area to receive numbers in smaller blocks. One form of number pooling is thousands-block pooling, which allows numbers to be apportioned in blocks of 1,000, which may significantly increase the efficiency with which numbers are used. In Illinois, a number pooling test saved approximately 1,370,000 telephone numbers.

Given the potential benefits of a nationwide pooling architecture, the Commission tentatively concluded that implementing thousands-block pooling in major markets is an important numbering resource optimization strategy that is essential to extending the life of the Numbering Plan. According to the Numbering Plan Administrator, pooling could extend the life of the Numbering Plan by over 75 years.

Other Measures. The Commission sought comment on other numbering resource optimization measures, including rate center consolidation and mandatory ten-digit dialing.

Carrier Choice. Rather than proposing to make specific number optimization measures mandatory, the Commission inquired whether it should set a certain goal that carriers must meet in their usage of numbers, but permit carriers to make their own business decisions to choose the methods of numbering resource optimization that may be the most cost effective for them.

Incentive-based Approach. The Commission also sought input on whether establishing a system by which carriers pay for numbering resources would improve the efficiency with which numbers are allocated and used. The Commission asked whether moving to a pricing mechanism for allocating numbering resources is feasible, and how transition to such a system could be accomplished in the long run.

Area Code Relief. Finally, the Commission sought input on traditional area code relief methodologies, including splits, overlays, and boundary realignments, as number optimization strategies. The Commission asked whether it can take steps to assist states in implementing area code relief in a manner that promotes the most efficient use of numbers. In particular, in response to requests from state public utility commissions, the Commission inquired about whether the Commission should reexamine its prohibition on service- or technology-specific area code overlays.

Action by the Commission May 27, 1999, by Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 99- 122). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth, Powell and Tristani, with Chairman Kennard and Commissioner Tristani issuing separate statements.

Report No: 99-15
CC Docket No. 99-200

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