As Valley businesses should be aware, new telephone numbers in the 818 area code are projected to run out in 2001. Currently, the relief choices are a geographic split or an overlay. A split would divide the Valley into two or more area codes and an overlay would create a second area code for the 818 area. Splits require enormous cost to businesses with reprinting of stationery, brochures and other material. Overlays don’t. Splits require businesses and consumers to change their numbers. Overlays won’t. Splits can separate businesses from customers who may not know how to reach them. Overlays won’t. The disadvantage of an overlay is that callers will be required to dial 11 digits for all calls. In September 1998, the Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA) board took a position in support of overlay as the preferred form of relief. Since the introduction of Assemblyman Wally Knox’s AB 818, which currently seeks to halt any area code split or overlay, VICA has been listening to overlay opponents, and assessing the various substitute suggestions. Our Telecommunications and Technology Committee has heard from state Sen. Richard Alarcon, Assemblyman Knox, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the North American Number Plan Administration (NAMPA), and telephone system engineers. The conclusion? VICA has seen no reason to change its original position and has confirmed that overlay relief is the preferred solution for the projected 818 number exhaust. While some of the offered solutions will provide relief to many area codes and should be implemented, none would significantly delay an 818 overlay or split. Certainly, as overlay opponents claim, there are millions of unused numbers in the state of California, yet this is irrelevant in regard to the numbers available in the 818 area code. We can’t use numbers from area codes 619 or 714 in 818. And we can’t simply use extra numbers in the Valley without restriction. Telephone companies receive numbers by prefixes the three numbers that follow an area code which constitute a block of 10,000 numbers. Prefixes are assigned by rate area. In the San Fernando Valley, for example, there are 16 different rate areas. That’s why we associate a 240 prefix with Glendale, and a 342 number with Reseda. Because each telephone company requires numbers in every rate area where it does business, an obvious inefficiency arises. While an incumbent provider, like Pacific Bell, reports using more than 80 percent of the prefix numbers assigned, new providers, such as a small pager company, may be using far less. Overlay opponents look at this reality and claim that phone companies are “hoarding” numbers. To increase number conservation, the FCC and the phone industry have been working on solutions such as local number portability and the distribution of numbers in blocks of 1,000. Number portability allows you to keep a telephone number when switching providers, say from Pacific Bell to Time Warner Cable, within a rate area. (You don’t get to keep the number if you move from Chatsworth to Sherman Oaks.) Distributing numbers in blocks of 1,000 offers much promise but not for area codes in the advanced stages of exhaust, such as 818. For example, a “number pooling” trial began in the Chicago area in June 1998, utilizing 1,000-block pooling and return of numbers from wire carriers (wireless providers cannot participate in 1,000-block pooling until 2002 for technological reasons). This delayed number exhaustion by only 14 months, and the overlay for that area is proceeding. Technology overlays, wherein specific technologies are assigned a separate area code, are constantly touted by overlay opponents. But the benefits of these, if any, are greatly exaggerated. The oft-cited fax or modem overlay cannot feasibly be done as these devices most often plug directly into RJ11 jacks, like those in homes. Attempting to initiate some type of reporting system wherein people are required to report their computer and fax connections would be impracticably burdensome. Additionally, if the extrapolated expectation of use isn’t high enough for wireless devices alone, devoting an entire area code for these would be wasteful. The area codes currently available must be efficiently used throughout North America. We in the San Fernando Valley can’t simply demand area codes at will and use them poorly. 818 went into “prefix rationing” in the last quarter of 1998. This means that numbers are distributed via a lottery system, and not to all companies that need them. Under this system, businesses may be forced to pick the phone company lucky enough to have numbers, instead of the company with the best price. A large company on the 101/134 freeway corridor, for example, simply may not be able to get the 4,000-number block it needs. An overlay is the best solution to add 7.9 million numbers to the San Fernando Valley inventory without the costs of a split. This allows our businesses to receive the numbers they need from the providers they wish to use, without moratorium or delay and that’s what’s best for the San Fernando Valley economy. Ellen Fitzmaurice is co-chair of the Telecommunications & Technology Committee of VICA.