NRRI 02-05 WHY THE SKY DID NOT FALL: REGULATORY SUCCESS STORY CONCERNING NPA AND NANP EXHAUST AND NUMBERING OPTIMIZATION


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By Ed Rosenberg, Ph. D.
Senior Research Specialist

March 2002

Telephone numbers in the United States are assigned according to the North
American Numbering Plan (NANP), which was put into place in 1947. Under the NANP,
each geographic area is assigned a numbering plan area (NPA) or area code, which is
designated by a three-digit number. In 1999 the administrator of the NANP came to a
preliminary projection that the NANP could exhaust as early as 2007. This projection
was shocking, because expanding the NANP - by adding one or more digits to the
current ten-digit dialing scheme to increase the number of available telephone numbers
- would be costly, confusing, and time consuming. The impact of this projection
motivated the FCC and the state commissions to take actions to optimize the use of
numbering resources.
The reason for the NANP exhaust projections was that the number of area codes
in service had been growing at a rapid pace. As one area code neared exhaust, it was
split into two (or more) area codes, an additional area code was overlaid on top of it, or
its boundaries were adjusted to give it some breathing room. As the pace of area code
additions grew, so did public ire, since area code changes involve changing dialing
patterns for some or all calls and may lessen individuals' senses of geographic
cohesion and identity.

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