I wasn’t going to blog about this.
Unlike most of my posts, which have at their core a desire to make things better by understanding how they happen, I have no hope that this situation will improve.
But after weeks of incredible personal frustration, it was the mounting complaints by my friends and co-workers that convinced me that this situation truly needs an explanation. Somebody somewhere made this decision, and I desperately want to know what they were thinking.
I’m talking about the recent change southern Connecticut made to their phone numbers. Beginning on November 14th, customers in the 203 area code became required to use the area code, 203, before all calls within the 203, whether local or long distance.
Now I know what I said makes no sense, so let me explain for those of you who don’t live here.
203 has always been a pretty conflicted area code with serious identity issues. Sometimes it’s local, sometimes it’s long distance. And there’s really no way to know which is which, because it’s not just based on where the recipient is located. In fact, sometimes it’s both at the same time. I have clients who have business phones and cell phones, all within the 203 area code, but the cell phones are sometimes local while the business phones are long distance.
Have any of you ever encountered an area code like this?
There must be others, although I always thought all the calls within an area code would be local calls. In my experience, living at various times in suburban New York, suburban New Jersey, San Diego, CA and Manhattan, I have never encountered an area code that could be both local and long distance within the area code, and especially within such a small geographic area. (I could understand, for instance, if all of Montana shared an area code that included local and long distance. But Fairfield County, CT? You’ve got to be kidding.)
I’ve lived in Connecticut for 5 years now, and worked here for 10, so I’ve made my uneasy peace with the split personality of the 203. Besides, the “locals” seemed to take it in stride, chalking up my frustration to my lack of geographic awareness. After all, how could I not know that Weston is a long distance 203 but Wilton is not, and Shelton is long distance from my office, but not from my home 15 miles away.
But this most recent change has the natives up in arms, so that must mean it’s really bad, even by Connecticut standards.
You see, now every call needs to have a 203 put in front of it, but not every call gets a 1 before the 203. And that’s what’s causing the problem.
The reason for the area code change is pretty clear: to accommodate the growing need for more phone numbers, Connecticut is adding a new area code, 475, to the 203 area. You can read the public announcement by the State of Connecticut’s Department of Public Utility Control here.
And the need to use 1 or not to use 1 is also pretty clear: local calls are still local calls. A prefix of 1 denotes long distance. And it matters because there are cost differences between local and long distance, of course. At least on antiquated land line systems.
So, technically, the change is pretty minor, right? In the past, within 203, you dialed 1-203 for long distance, and nothing for local. Now, you dial 1-203 for long distance, and 203 for local.
It should be a pretty simple change to adapt to. And yet it’s got people slamming phones and cursing throughout the day at the those endless, annoying messages: “We’re sorry. You must dial a 1 and the area code before making this call.” or the dreaded “Hey, Moron, this call cannot be completed as dialed. Do not include a 1 for local calls. What are you, from New York?”
Talk about a frustrating and inescapable customer experience.
Speed dials on office phones have to be reprogrammed. So do faxes. Employee home phone number lists have to be updated, as do personnel records.
One of my coworkers has a 203 based cell phone. He says he has to reprogram the numbers in his phone to include a 1 or not, and it’s not based on where he lives, but where he activated his phone, in addition to where the number is located. (My cell started as a 917 out of NYC, so 203 has always been long distance and automatically gets a 1, so I’m ahead of the game on that one.)
You’d think I’d be enjoying this. All those people who were unmoved by my phone frustrations are now plagued with their own.
And yet I get absolutely no joy whatsoever from their angst.
Because I’m way too busy being frustrated on my own. That simple change now means that every call is 203, but only some get a 1. I’ve got a 50/50 shot at being right, but for whatever reason, I’m guessing wrong way more than 50% of the time.
As I see it, the problem isn’t really about the change. The problem has been there all along, thanks to the schizophrenic nature of the 203 area code. There must be a reason. Is it based on square miles of coverage? Is it based on greedy municipalities and usage taxes? Is it a 19th century legacy of a long forgotten battle between local phone systems that combined in some satanic mega-merger?
In other words, can someone out there please explain to me why the 203 area code is just so messed up?