Friday, June 19, 2009

PSC Didn't Provide Complete Explanation When it Ended its 315 Area Code Proceeding

As we noted earlier this week, the New York State Public Service Commission (“PSC”) formally decided to put on hold its proceeding to add a new area code in the 315 region of central New York State. The PSC press release announcing the good news claims the reason the need additional numbering resources has dropped, causing the PSC to end its plans to add an overlay area code in the region, is “primarily due to the slowing of the economy.”

While there is certainly no argument that the current “Great Recession” is causing significant economic harm across the state, PULP does not agree with the PSC that this is the primary reason for the drop in telephone exchange code demand. Rather, it was the Commission belatedly ending its ill-advised procedure to dole out multiple 10,000 telephone number exchange codes (also known as NXX codes) to multiple providers in very rural communities.

When the PSC submitted its request to the FCC in August 2005 to expand "thousands block" pooling – that is, assigning numbering resources 1,000 at a time instead of 10,000 at a time – outside the state’s major population centers, the PSC did not signal the urgency of the need and did not request expedited treatment to stem the pending numbering crisis . While it did take the FCC over a year to grant the request, the PSC sat for an additional four months prior to implementing its new authority. During this brief time period alone, (November 2006 to March 2007), 10 new 10,000 telephone number NXX codes were assigned (19 requested, nine returned), representing 100,000 telephone numbers stranded in rural areas that did not need them.

Let’s look at more numbers: Between December 2004 and December 2007, a total of 40 NXX codes were assigned in the 315 area code, averaging between 13 and 14 codes a year. The big drop off occurred beginning in October 2007, when a net of only two NXX codes were assigned in total until July 2008 (six requested, four returned). Since then, only four NXX codes have been requested through May 2009 and three have been returned. As a result, since October 2007, a net of three NXX codes have been assigned in the 315 area code, far short of the levels hit in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

However, in order to recognize this fact, the Commission would be placed in a position to admit that the reduction in NXX code demand began when it implemented thousands block pooling. However, that admission would raise questions as to why the Commission was handing out 10,000 numbers at a time (and multiple times) to over 50 rural communities in central New York, each of which has only a thousand or two living there.

On top of this, despite souring economic conditions, demand for telephone numbers continues in other regions of the state, including New York City, where the recession has hit hard. Since the beginning of the year, 19 new NXX codes have been put in place in the city.

PULP is pleased that the PSC has rectified its numbering allocation procedures, which has caused it to avoid forcing over a million people to change their telephone number and change their dialing patterns for reasons which were completely avoidable. However, don’t blame the recession for the drop in NXX code demand. The credit for forstalling the new area code goes to the PSC's new number conservation policies, no matter how tardy they may have been in coming into play.

Lou Manuta

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