Chamber Wants Time To Consider Area Code Options

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce last week asked state regulators to delay today's public hear concerning a new area code for West Michigan.

In a filing with the Michigan Public Service Commission, the chamber sought a 60-day delay in the Grand Rapids hearing on a proposal to implement a new area code in the region. The chamber contends businesses need more time to review the proposal and its potential effects.

The 25 days since scheduling of the hearing is not enough time for businesses to adequately review the proposal, said Rusty Merchant, vice president for public policy and government relations for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber.

“We don’t think that’s an appropriate amount of time for the business community to respond whether they like it or not,” Merchant said.

The MPSC is weighing a proposal to add a new area code within the existing 14-county region now covered by the 616 area code. Under the proposal, known as a “overlay,” customers requesting a new telephone number would receive a new area code.

The proposal, if adopted, would require all callers within the existing 616 area code to dial 11 digits, no matter where they’re calling.

Overlays were proposed twice in the past year in Michigan. The MPSC rejected both proposals, opting instead for the traditional method of implementing new area codes based on geographic areas.

While the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce for now stands neutral on the proposal before the MPSC, the early view is to oppose it, Merchant said. Many businesses who’ve contacted the chamber have voiced opposition to an area code overlay, fearing it would only cause confusion, he said.

Businesses adding telephone lines in the same building conceivably would have to use two area codes, Merchant said.

“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It strikes me as confusing,” he said. “At first blush, we don’t think we like it, but we want more time to think about it.”

The MPSC last week decided to proceed with Monday’s hearing then schedule to another hearing at a later date for additional comment, spokeswoman Mary Jo Kunkle said.

The need for new area codes nationwide is driven by the growing prevalence of technology in everyday life at home and at work. Fax machines, cell phones, pagers and computer modems all typically need their own phone numbers.

The entrance of new local telephone service providers, which are assigned blocks of 10,000 numbers for their customers, also stretches the present system.

If the MPSC rejects the overlay proposed for the 616 area code, it could opt to adopt one of the alternative plans submitted with the initial proposal. They offer varying overlay plans, as well as a new area code based on geographic boundaries.

One of the geographic-based alternatives would maintain the 616 area code for Grand Rapids area, while assigning a new code elsewhere, including Kalamazoo.

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