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Fingers get ready: 10-digit dialing goes statewide Sunday

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Wisconsin fingers will soon be getting more exercise.

Starting Sunday, phone customers with area codes 262, 414, 608 and 920 will need to dial both the area code and telephone number for local calls as well as those to other area codes in order to make way for a new suicide prevention line.

While the change won’t affect the cost of a phone call (for anyone who still pays long distance charges), it may require some updates to household electronics, said Jesse La Grew, information security architect for Madison Area Technical College.

A land conservancy organization has purchased about 70,000 acres of northern Wisconsin forestland in hopes of preserving it for public use and logging.

For one, any seven-digit phone numbers stored in your phone’s contact list will need to be updated. Users who still use fax machines or dial-up internet service may also need to change their settings.

But La Grew said the change will primarily affect those still using landlines.

“I’m sure there will be individuals who will be surprised,” he said.

The change is needed to implement a new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in July.

Wisconsin area code map

Last year, at the direction of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission designated 988 as a hotline for the suicide prevention line, which users now reach by dialing an 800 number.

For that to work, 87 area codes — in states including Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan — that have a 988 prefix must switch to 10-digit dialing to prevent inadvertent calls to the suicide prevention line.

Ten-digit dialing has been required since 2010 for customers in the northern part of the state, where a 543 area code was created to prevent the 715 area code from running out of numbers.

At the time, the Public Service Commission estimated the 608 and 920 area codes would run out of numbers by 2017, requiring additional area codes. The PSC even created a 274 area code for new numbers in the 920 area, but it hasn’t been needed.

The PSC was able to head that off by changing how numbers are assigned, said spokesperson Jerel Ballard.

In the past, when a provider needed phone numbers, the PSC would assign a block of 10,000 numbers — for example, every number starting with 608-456 — even though many of those numbers weren’t needed. Now the commission allocates numbers in blocks of 1,000.

That’s helped stretch the pool of numbers, although Ballard said new area codes will probably be needed by 2025.


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