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Area code crunch in the 631 means new digits could be dialed up

Assignable 631 area code numbers are expected to

Assignable 631 area code numbers are expected to run out by early 2016. A proposed “overlay" relief approach means new customers would be assigned the new area code and existing customers' numbers would remain the same. Credit: AP / Nam Y. Huh

Move over, area code 631. It looks like you're not going to be the only code in town.

At the root of it, 631 "is running out of assignable telephone numbers, and implementation of a new area code is necessary," said a June 16 report from the state Department of Public Service, which suggested two options for discussion in the coming months.

One, the "overlay" approach, would have present Suffolk County customers, wireless included, keeping 631, with new customers in the county getting assigned the new code "as needed." That also would require dialing 10 digits, instead of the present seven, for intra-county calls.

The other option envisions a "geographic split" with Suffolk County residents on one side of a line keeping 631 and those on the other making the switch. The line would run through Smithtown and Islip towns, the report said. Which side would retain 631 yet to be determined.

Carriers reported that, as of Dec. 31, 2013, roughly 3.8 million 631 numbers had been assigned to customers, said John Manning, director of the North American Numbering Plan Administration. The Public Service report said the supply of new 631 numbers is expected to be depleted by early 2016.

Next steps include information forums and hearings to get public comment to be held at various Long Island locations over the summer. Recommendations will be made to the Department of Public Service Commission by early fall, with a possible decision shortly after, the report said.

In 1999, Suffolk residents had to start shifting to 631, while Nassau retained 516. But this time tech advances could mean less aggravation.

Informing clients and the public of a number change would be much easier, thanks to technology, though small businesses would still face the cost of updating business cards, letterheads and other printed material, said Terri Alessi-Miceli, president of the HIA-LI, a business advocacy and information sharing association headquartered in Hauppauge.

For some there can also be issues related to a person's sense of self, said Gail Satler, sociology professor at Hofstra University. That code "is not just a number, it's who you are . . . it's your identity," she said.

Reaction to a number change could vary significantly by generation, said John D. Williams Jr., an author and television writer and producer in Greenport, with the identity factor possibly diminished for people who have other outlets for self-expression, such as Facebook and Twitter.

One disadvantage to the overlay option would be having to dial 10 digits, the report said.

But Cindy Mardenfeld, owner of Deer Park-based Infinity Relations Inc., an event management and strategic marketing business, said technology can help with that, too. Frequently called numbers can be programmed into phones, and redial hit for missed calls, she said. People also can turn to virtual personal assistants, such as Siri and Google Now, instructing them to "call so-and-so at home."

Mardenfeld said the new code could be positioned as cool, such as, "Suffolk is growing, and so is our phone system."

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