Officials sound off on 814 area code dispute

DUBOIS — Two legislators have requested that the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hold a second hearing regarding the possible change of the 814 area code in western and central Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Matt Gabler, 75th district, and State Sen. Joe Scarnati, 25th District, requested that the PUC hold another public hearing regarding the 814 area code change, which is being discussed due to the exhaustion the available phone numbers in the area code.

The first hearing was poorly attended due to lack of publicity and bad weather.
The 814 area code is projected to run out of telephone numbers in the third quarter of 2012.

That means new area codes are needed when existing area codes exhaust their supply of "NXX" codes, which is the second set of three digits in a 10-digit telephone number.

North American Numbering Plan Administrator NeuStar Inc. is the neutral third party Number Planning Area (NPA) relief planner for Pennsylvania that proposed the change.

NeuStar chose 582 as the new area code for the Northwestern part of the state. The change is currently set to go into effect Feb. 1, 2012.As of now, the new area code will be applied to Jefferson, Elk and McKean counties and west of those areas.

The boundary runs in a north/south direction east of the rate centers located in Shinglehouse, Wilcox, Kersey, DuBois and Sykesville.

Gabler, at Monday's meeting in DuBois, said the one thing he has gathered from the PUC is that it is required to take action based on the public input it receives.

"That's why they made the decision to make the split, because they did not get good input from the prior meeting," Gabler said, adding that the information the PUC received was inaccurate, which is why they have agreed to reopen the question.

"We as citizens need to give them the ability to make the decision of the overlay (change of area code) so we won't lose our phone numbers and see them change," Gabler said.

The PUC has re-opened the record in the case to hold technical conferences and public input hearings, as well as review more than 40 petitions received from John Balliett of Taxpayers United for Representation NOW (TURN) asking for reconsideration.

There is no statutory deadline for the PUC to make its final decision in order to implement the appropriate area code relief option before the projected exhaustion of the telephone numbers in the 814 area code.

Mark McCracken, Clearfield County commissioner, said he has had several conversations with PUC Commissioner John Coleman Jr., who is connected to Jefferson County. McCracken said that Coleman is the one person in the PUC who has taken some interest in what is going on in this area.

Coleman served for 12-and-a-half years as the executive director of the Jefferson County Department of Development.

In May 1999, Coleman was appointed as the President/CEO of the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, the largest member-based business organization in central Pennsylvania, before joining the PUC.

McCracken said Coleman was instrumental in trying to stop the area code change and was the first person to push to have a hearing held in this area.
For many years, leaders in the cities of DuBois and Clearfield felt the two communities, which are both in the same county, were split by the Clearfield Mountain.

"With the proposed dividing line, they will be splitting our county back into two sections again," McCracken said, adding that the PUC will be putting the mountain back up, after leaders on both sides have worked hard to bring everyone together.

"We need to think not only of Clearfield County but the entire Tri-County area," McCracken said. "We need to not only focus on what's important to Clearfield County, but what's important to Jefferson and Elk counties, as we're all tied together through the DuBois-Sandy Township area."

The PUC is not looking at the issue as this side of the mountain versus that side of the mountain, McCracken said, adding it's in the best interest of all of the people to not allow the change to happen. McCracken said the Clearfield Commission will be at the PUC hearing, and will voice its concerns and opposition to the change in area code.

"The mountain has been torn down; we want to remain one. We've got friends in Jefferson and Elk counties that we're also concerned for," McCracken said. "Plan on being at the PUC hearing. This is the one shot that we're going to have to make our case."

Paul Corbin, Jefferson County Commission chairman, said he and fellow commissioner Jim McIntyre attended Monday's meeting so they could learn as much as possible about the situation to clearly understand the issues.

"I like the comments that McCracken made concerning the regional concept here," Corbin said, adding that is also important to Jefferson County.

Corbin said he is hoping the public will turn out for the PUC's public hearing once the date has been set, and the Jefferson County Commission will keep in touch as much as it can with the Clearfield Commission.
"PUC Commissioner John F. Coleman's wife is from Jefferson County, so they have roots here," Corbin said. "I'm sure that he's concerned about the situation and how the change in the area code could affect our area."

McIntyre said his concern is for the businesses in the county and the expenses they will incur if the area code should change. Business owners and their employees should plan on attending the public hearing so their opinions may be heard, he said.

Barry Abbott, a DuBois resident, said he called the PUC and asked for an explanation from Coleman's attorney as to what the PUC needs from the public and government leaders at the hearing.

The PUC needs people to show up at the hearing; to be visible; to offer testimony as to how people feel about the change; and to weigh in on if it's advantageous or a disadvantage for the PUC to change the area code.

"Nothing is better than having 100 people in a room all waiting for the chance to testify in front of the PUC to say they don't like it and don't want the change," Abbott said, adding that he told the attorney from the PUC that if they draw an invisible line between Clearfield and DuBois, it will separate the two cities, just as the Clearfield Mountain did for many years.

Abbott suggested that the PUC do an overlay throughout the entire 814 area code from Erie to Breezewood and allow the existing customers to keep their 814 area code and present phone numbers. Abbott said he thinks that anyone who becomes a new customer or moves into the 814 area code should receive the new area code.

Nancy Micks, president/CEO of the Greater DuBois Chamber of Commerce, who was the moderator for Monday's meeting, said the chamber will publicize the time, date and location of the proposed PUC hearing as soon as that information is available.