Group will host meeting over proposed 814 area code change

BROOKVILLE — Most people in the region are probably aware of a Public Utility Commission (PUC) plan to change area codes from 814 to 582, but one group is trying to alter the way that the change in enforced.

In December 2010, the PUC announced plans to divide the 814 area code, and the counties of Erie, Crawford, Warren, Venango, Forest, Clarion, Jefferson, Elk and McKean, as well as parts of Clearfield, Armstrong, Mercer and Indiana counties will switch to area code 582.

The changes are scheduled to take place Feb. 1, 2012, but there is growing opposition to the plan.

Jim Balliet, director of Taxpayers United for Representation Now (TURN) said Tuesday that a public meeting about TURN’s alternative idea will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 21, at the Best Western in DuBois.

PUC deputy press secretary Denise McCracken said Wednesday the plan was approved because all NXS numbers — the three-digit set of numbers following the area code, such as 938 or 939 in Punxsy — would be exhausted by early 2013. Therefore, a split was needed.

“We had public input hearings and sought comments from the public,” McCracken said. “Then the commission voted, and what was approved a geographic split.”

Therein lies the crux of the disagreement, because Balliet said the region would be better served if existing businesses and homes keep the 814 area code already designated to them.

“Basically, businesses and homes with landlines are on the decrease,” Balliet said Tuesday. “The pressure on the area code is all the new cellular numbers, and any decision should focus on that pressure.”

He suggested the PUC place the 582 area code on all cell phones, or instead, on all new phone numbers added to the system.

“That will still be mostly cell phones, so the business is not affected,” Balliet said. “Existing phone numbers are very important to established businesses.”

Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marlene Lellock said a change in area code would definitely affect local businesses.

“Obviously, there would be a lot of expense in getting the new phone number out there to the customers and anybody who is used to calling them,” she said. “Any printed brochure would have to be redone. If they had a Yellow Pages ad, they would be stuck with that for a year. Just the cost of getting the word out would be an expense that would otherwise not be needed.”

“The genesis of the change affecting our area was a lack of public response at public meetings,” Balliet said. “We would like to counter that with strong public support at these meetings to say to the PUC, ‘We don’t like your plan.’”

Balliet invited to the county commissioners to the public meetings.

“It definitely affects our area,” Jefferson County Commission Chairman Paul Corbin said. “Every call we make to DuBois would be to another exchange.”

McCracken said more than 40 formal petitions against the plan have been received from “groups, individuals and business in the area who want us to reconsider the geographic split.”

The PUC is allowing the opposition to present cases against the geographic split, McCracken said.

“In January, we did reopen the case and are currently reviewing the case,” she said. “We are scheduling additional public input hearings. We want to gather information from all interested parties. Certainly, the public is encouraged to give us their opinion.”