SPRINGFIELD — Beginning February 27, Illinois residents who live in the 217 area code will need to dial a full 10-digit number when making local calls. The area code encompasses Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, and Quincy, and other parts of Central Illinois.
The change in dialing requirements corresponds with a new 447 area code being overlaid in the region on March 27.
Since August, the Illinois Commerce Commission has been notifying affected communities and businesses about the change.
Illinois Telecommunications Association President Randy Nehrt said Illinois telecommunication companies have coordinated with the commerce commission and the North American Numbering Plan Administrator to also notify the public.
“Not only on the technical requirements for transitioning to the 217/447 area code overlay, but also on consumer education,” Nehrt said.
In addition to addressing logistical changes for personal phone plans, telecommunication companies also helped to prepare emergency dialing systems to use 10-digit numbers, such as those used by elevators and home security systems.
George Light, an engineering analyst with the commerce commission, said certain residents may want to verify their home’s systems are effectively programmed to dial out.
“If they have an alarm system that’s on a dial-up, make sure they contact their alarm company to make certain that the change has been made so the full 10-digit number is going to be dialed in the event of an emergency.”
The issue of reprogramming alarm systems to utilize 10-digit numbers has proven burdensome in other states also going through the process of transferring to a new area code.
In November 2019, the Florida Public Service Commission announced their intention to overlay new area codes for the 850 and 813 areas — which include the capital city of Tallahassee and Tampa, respectively.
Greg Fogleman of the public service commission said the North American Numbering Plan Administrator had given out multiple advance notices to affected providers about the change — but some groups did not pay attention.
“What was unique in this particular instance was the alarm association just didn’t read their emails,” Fogleman said.
When general notices to the public began to go out last August about the changeover in the 850 area for February, Folegman said the alarm industries panicked, resulting in a delayed implementation of the 10-digit dialing requirement until May.
The Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association and elevator operators had also asked the commission for a delay in order to allow more time to inspect and program emergency alarms — an in-person task which was made more difficult as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.
In Illinois, the decision to overlay a new area code in the 217 area was made back in 2006. At that time, the Illinois Commerce Commission announced an overlay would occur when 217 area code prefixes — the first three digits of seven-digit phone numbers — were exhausted.
However, as a result of a practice known as number pooling — where blocks of numbers are split up among phone carriers — the need for a new area code was delayed until now.
Light said there are still millions of unassigned 217 individual phone numbers, so residents may not encounter the 447 number for some time.
“The overlay was ordered so that there would be minimal disruption to folks in as much as we didn’t split the area code so no one would have to change their phone number,” Light said.
Light said large businesses that order thousands of phone numbers at a single time will more than likely be among the first groups assigned the 447 area code.
Despite the upcoming area code change, local phone calls will not be charged extra for calls made between a 217 number and a 447 number. But, residents may want to consider changing any speed dials they currently have set on their phones.
Nehrt also explained in an effort to make contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline easier, the current 1-800 number will transform to just 988 starting next year, which will mean area codes throughout Illinois will need to make programming changes.
“There are other area codes in Illinois— 618, 309, 708 — that will have to convert as well to 10-digit dialing,” Nehrt said. “Not because they’ve exhausted their prefixes within those area codes, but because 10-digit dialing will be required for 988 to function properly in those areas.”