Responding to massive public outrage, Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl chaired a town hall meeting last Thursday to find an alternative to the way people are forced to make a local telephone call.
Briefing the crowd in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium about the status of the proposed area code overlay, Kuehl, whose district includes Malibu, said people should contact the Federal Communications Commission before July 30, the end of its comment period on proposed changes.
The current area code overlay plan (overlaying new area code 424 onto the region now covered by 310) imposes 11-digit dialing on large sections of the Westside. It caused such an outcry that the California Public Utilities commission last month agreed to postpone the July 17 introduction of the overlay and consider alternative ways to deal with the shortage of telephone numbers claimed by telephone companies.
The PUC filed a petition with the FCC to engage in “number pooling” (allowing phone numbers to be transferred from one company to another in much smaller groups than the current blocks of 10,000) in California before the FCC does it nationally, Kuehl said.
Separate area codes for cell phones and pagers is also being considered. The FCC is considering whether this would place mobile communications companies at an unfair disadvantage, Kuehl said.
If the petition is granted, California could be allowed to allocate available numbers within a year-and-a-half, but this would not affect the immediate 310/424 situation. “Let the FCC know in vast droves that they have to move faster,” Kuehl said. “Believe me, public officials read their mail.”[See “Contact Information” below.]
Introducing officials from the PUC, Kuehl said, “People are having real problems with this [11-digit-dialing system], including [those] who live in apartments with security systems which are equipped only for seven-digit dialing. Business owners are losing significant resources to the tasks involved in reprogramming their dialing systems. People are also angry because they feel shut out of the process.
“I urge you, stop the current overlay plan and stop 11-digit dialing,” concluded Kuehl. “The number hoarding has to stop.”
Acknowledging Kuehl’s remarks, PUC commissioner Henry Duque, who was present on the dais along with commissioner Carl Wood, replied basically that the state agency’s hands were tied by the FCC. “Despite the fact that numbers were probably not used efficiently,” he said, more phone numbers were needed by new carriers. New action was required by the FCC. The only choices available were a geographic split or an overlay. The need to dial the area code plus seven digits, although “onerous,” is an FCC requirement, and the “1” before the area code is a holdover from Pacific Bell’s system, Duque said.
Speakers from the Westside and the South Bay (which two years ago went through the trauma of splitting off area code 562 from 310) addressed officials for nearly four hours, ending just before 11 p.m. There were several categories of complaints, including preferences for overlay versus area code and resentment about government treatment.
Malibu resident Ryan Embree called for separate area codes for fixed-use and mobile telephone numbers. He also said he resented the $1,000 his homeowners association had to pay for a new security system. Saying overlay was much easier for telephone companies than their customers, he taunted officials, “What part don’t you understand?”
Another speaker pointed out that the 11-digit system caused “confusion and error” for small children, who are taught to call home for all emergencies.
Santa Monica City Councilman Paul Rosenstein said people feel they have not been told the truth, leading to a question of faith in government.
Contact information: FCC, RE: CC DOCKET 99-200, FCC Secretary, 445 12th St., Washington, D.C. 20554; FCC Chairman William E. Kennard, call 202.418.1000, fax 202.418.2801, or e-mail “email@example.com”; Rep. Brad Sherman (phone 202.225.5911, fax 202.225.5879, e-mail “firstname.lastname@example.org”); Sen. Barbara Boxer (phone: 202.224.3553; fax 202.228.4056, e-mail “email@example.com”); Sen. Dianne Feinstein (phone 202.224.3841; fax 202.228.39954; e-mail “firstname.lastname@example.org”); presidential hopeful, Vice President Al Gore (phone 202.456.1414, ext. 1, fax 202.456.2461 or on the Web at www.whitehouse.gov)