San Bernardino County

San Bernardino County could receive a new area code.

The 909 area code is nearly depleted, according to an agency created more than half a century ago to manage telephone numbering in much of North America.

That means a new area code may be coming to our region if a request from the North American Plan Administrator (NAPA) is approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

Introduced in 1992, the 909 area code replaced 714, which had previously encompassed almost all of Southern California.

Now NAPA -- which was formed in 1940 by AT&T to manage telephone numbering -- says telephone providers need a new overlay area code because there are only a handful of prefixes left for 909 numbers.

A new overlay area code, if approved by the CPUC, would be used for new telephone service for the entire San Bernardino Valley as well as the mountain communities and some areas outside of our county.

New area codes become necessary when the number of available prefixes -- the second set of three numbers -- is exhausted.

Officials predict the 909 area code will run out of prefixes in about two years.

The 951 area code was introduced in 2004 because officials were concerned about running out of 909 prefixes in the fast growing Inland Empire, but unlike the proposed new area code, the change to 951 was a split rather than an overlay.

The 951 area code became the one area code for western Riverside County, whereas the proposed new area code would be added to new lines issued within the current 909 area code area.

So, if this plan is approved, you may one day need to dial an area code to call someone across the street. However, residents won’t be asked to give up their current numbers. The new area code would only apply to new lines.

The NAPA recommended an overlay rather than a split, in part, because a split would have divided the city of Fontana into two different areas codes. It also avoids requiring a lot of customers to change their telephone numbers.

The CPUC hosted meetings in San Bernardino, Redlands, and Pomona in April 2017 to gather public input on the plan, and it collected mailed and emailed input as well.

If the plan is approved by the CPUC, officials plan to launch a public education effort to inform residents about the new area code overlay. It’s unknown what the three digits for the proposed new area code might be.

The CPUC may be asked to render a decision on the matter at its meeting on June 27.

(San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford represents the 2nd District, which includes part of Fontana. This article originally appeared in "The Rutherford Report.")

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