PUC seeks public input on 814 issue

PUNXSUTAWNEY — While representatives from the telecommunications industry, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the state Office of Consumer Advocate offered views Thursday in a public hearing about proposed changes to the 814 area code, no one from the public did so.

Administrative Law Judge Katrina Dunderdale, who was assigned by the PUC to conduct the public hearings, closed the hearing after about 30 minutes because no one from the public had signed up to testify.

Six residents — including two members of the media — attended the hearing in the Punxsy Community Center’s Jackson Theater.

The hearing was among those ongoing around the state to gauge the public’s support or concerns about two FCC-regulated proposals for the 814 area code: Creating one overlay area with a new area code, 582; or geographically splitting the existing 814 area code.

Wayne Milby, a senior numbering plan area (NPA, or area code) relief planner for the third-party North American Numbering Plan Administration (Neustar Inc.), said the firm informed the PUC in 2009 that the exhaust date for the 814 area code — which runs from the border of Maryland to that of New York) — was the first quarter of 2013.

In 2009, the PUC approved a plan to split the 814 area code along geographic boundaries to prevent running out of phone numbers.

Revised data in March of this year, however, revealed that the actual exhaust date would be during the first quarter of 2015, Dunderdale said in a statement during the early part of the hearing.

Since that time, the PUC has reconsidered and reopened the issue, and has been seeking public/customer input on the two proposed plans.

David Screven, an attorney for the PUC, said the hearing was gauged for public opinion because, while the PUC has reopened the issue since the initial 2013 suggestions, the outcome — regardless of which option the PUC chooses — will affect the public.

Meanwhile, Daniel Monagle, an attorney for Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, said his clients ask the PUC to embrace the overlay option.
He said the 814 area code is the only one in the state that had not undergone NPA relief, and the new numbers are needed.

Monagle said the three telecommunications companies favor the overlay model because it will have less of an effect on businesses. The last time a geographical split was performed was in New Mexico, which created several problems for customers.

Finally, Joel Cheskis, assistant consumer advocate for the state Office of Consumer Advocate, said his office seeks a more efficient use and maintenance of the 814 area code before creating a new area code. He also said if the PUC chooses to affect the existing 814 area code, it should also do so via the overlay model, because it would cause fewer disruptions for customers.

Milby said currently, there are only 83 remaining prefixes — or the numbers that follow the area code, such as 938, 939, 849, etc. — in the 814 area code. The prefixes will be exhausted by 2015.

Under a split model, seven-digit dialing would be permitted, with 10-digit dialing among other area codes.

Under the overlay model, 10-digit local calling would then apply to all phone calls.

Milby said phone bills and charges would not be affected, regardless of which model the PUC chooses.

The PUC said there is no “statutory deadline” for it to make a final decision regarding area code relief for 814.

Public hearings continue Aug. 22 in Somerset; Aug. 23 in Bedford; Aug. 24 in Altoona; Aug. 25 in Mount Union; and Sept. 1 in St. Marys.