10-digit dialing causes a few headaches around county

It was a rare person who didn't complain Monday about having to dial 10 digits for local calls — but the biggest bother came with resetting call-forwarding, speed-dialing and alarm systems.

"It cost us thousands and thousands of man hours over the last several months," said consultant Henry Knepp of S.O.S. Alarm in Medford. "It took 12 technicians spending most days, especially in the last month, resetting control panels on security alarms in the field so they would contact central monitoring.

"It cost us a lot, but there was no other option."

Ten-digit dialing for local calls began Sunday in preparation for a new area code, 458, which will start getting assigned to new accounts in February. The move was necessitated by the explosion of new numbers for cell phones, faxes and pagers.

The 541 and 458 area codes will cover all but northwestern Oregon, where a new 971 area code was overlaid on the 503 area code in 2000.

"You'll start to see the 458 area code with new numbers in March," said Bob Gravely, Qwest regional spokesman. "It will be only for new numbers. No 541 numbers will change."

Adding the 458 area code here "isn't going to be a big deal," said Gravely, now that 10-digit dialing is in place.

The switchover to mandatory area code dialing "sounds like it's going smoothly," said Bob Valdez, Oregon Public Utilities Commission spokesman, except "some folks have overlooked reprogramming" their call forwarding and speed dialing to 10-digits.

"If it's a medical issue (with physicians and clinics) and the call doesn't get through, it could be of concern," he said.

The office staff of physician John Delgado in Ashland realized its call-forwarding was not reset with 10 digits on Sunday, so the doctor went down to the office and reset it himself.

"There's been a lot of whining" about calls interrupted by a Qwest recording informing callers to use all 10 digits, said Barbara Hansen, office manager for Heller Chiropractic in Ashland.

"It should become a habit for me after about a month," she joked.

"Personally," said Knepp, "it's been a minor headache, misdialing numbers and doing it again."

David Martin, telecommunications technician for the city of Ashland, said "it's going very well" after he and his staff put in 80 hours reprogramming and testing call-forwarding and speed dialing with extra digits, including lines linked to alarm security.

"It's taking time for people to realize they have to dial the area codes," said Gravely, adding that in Qwest's system, the software and equipment adjustments have taken a year and have "gone very well."

"There's not a problem with the system but there are people who need to program numbers in their phones and faxes or it's not going to go through," said Gravely. "There's no way around it."

Special test numbers have been set up for businesses to check that their systems are ready for the new area code, Valdez said. Those numbers are 458-222-8378, 458-333-8378, and 458-444-8378. All those numbers would be toll calls from Jackson County, so they will need to be preceded by a 1.

Questions about the changes can be answered at www.puc.state.or.us/ or call the PUC at 1-800-522-2404.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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