New 878 area code on horizon for region

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Nearly five years ago, Aaron Kinkela co-founded Shop412, a boutique clothing store named after the city's area code.

"412 is Pittsburgh," he said.

On Friday, when he learned that phone users in Western Pennsylvania will begin to see 878 assigned as a new three-digit area code because the supply of available 412 and 724 numbers has dwindled, he had to laugh.

"I never would expect a new area code to be implemented," he said, when reached at his South Side store. "But times change, things change and you just have to roll with it."

Mr. Kinkela, however, will not be rolling with it. The Ross resident will be clinging to the 412 numbers he has for his work and his personal phones.

PG graphic: The new area code
(Click image for larger version)

"412 all the way," he said. "I'm keeping it until I die."

From the holders of the vaunted 212 in New York to the keepers of 415 in San Francisco, there is a definite allegiance to numbers among many phone users, said John Manning, director of the North American Numbering Plan Administration in Sterling, Va., the organization that has been in charge of assigning phone numbers since 1997.

"There is an allegiance to a telephone number, especially those folks who have had it for some time," he said.

Each time new numbers are introduced, it's a "hot-button issue," said Denise McCracken, spokeswoman for the state Public Utility Commission, which on Friday announced the need to implement the new area code. The 878 code had been assigned to the region more than a decade ago to be used in Western Pennsylvania when necessary.

New area codes are necessary when the existing codes run through their supply of what are called "NXX" codes, the second set of three digits in a 10-digit telephone number.

For many decades in Western Pennsylvania, the 412 area code was sufficient. It was established around 1947 and dominated the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania until the late 1990s, when an increase in the number of cell phones and computers led to a need for a new area code.

In February 1998, in a split that was highly contentious at the time, the city of Pittsburgh and most of Allegheny County retained their 412 numbers while several counties surrounding Pittsburgh received the new area code of 724.

Fast-forward a decade and a half, and 412 and 724 are no longer enough. It's a similar trend that's happening throughout the country, as more phone lines and cell phones and Internet connections exhaust the current supply of phone numbers.

"The introduction of new area codes is not unique," Mr. Manning said. "We've been introducing new area codes -- four, five, six a year -- for the past several years."

About 350 area codes are in the region governed by the North American Numbering Plan Administration, which covers the U.S., Canada and several Caribbean nations.

Although it's not yet clear when the first 878 number will be assigned, about 10,000 numbers are left with the 724 area code, so the supply will run out soon, Ms. McCracken said.

"It's right around the corner," she said. "It could be anywhere from two weeks from now to even a year from now."

The supply of 412 numbers available is also running low, but exhaustion is not as imminent, she said, estimating the supply of 412 permutations should last about five more years.

The good news, especially for people who are committed to their number like Mr. Kinkela, is that current customers with 412 and 724 numbers may keep their area codes and their phone numbers after the supply runs out. It's only new customers or people who want an additional line who will be assigned an 878 number.

Although he doesn't intend to acquire one of the new phone numbers, Mr. Kinkela said he could see an upside to the change for his business, which sells some in-house clothing inscribed with the number 412.

Soon, he said, it could be vintage.


Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.


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