Tribune Staff

The Nebraska Public Service Commission is trying to solve the state's area-code shortage problem.

Currently, there are several long-term solutions from which the PSC will decide. In the meantime, the commission has applied to the FCC for conservation methods, and is expecting an answer within a month.

"Our next national meeting (with the FCC) is in March," 3rd Dist. Commissioner Lowell Johnson said. "In the meantime, the FCC may develop a plan which will at least address the problem."

The PSC, Johnson said, is attempting to gain authority from federal regulators to re-appropriate telephone numbers in Nebraska in blocks of 1,000 different prefix areas.

Numbers currently are distributed in blocks of 10,000. This means a city with a population of 100 has 9,900 numbers available.

"That would alleviate the problem for 5 to 10 years," Johnson said.

The commission has been working to put together a percentage on area-code usage, Johnson said. "It looks like 40 percent of the total numbers have been used."

But a longer-term solution must be developed to conserve numbers, which have seen tremendous growth in the face of faxes, pagers, wireless communication, Internet providers, cellular phones and other telecommunication sources.

Other options the commission has come up with include:

*Uniting Omaha and Lincoln in a single, new area code.

*Imparting Omaha and surrounding communities with a new area code.

*Splitting the 402 area code region along the Platte River. A new area code would be required either north or south of the river.

*Extending the 308 area code east.

Another interesting option, Johnson said, is the "overlay" system. This would call for no geographical splits. Instead, new telephone customers would receive a new 10-number system. The advantage to this system means that there would be no battle between Omaha and Lincoln or urban and rural communities regarding who would have to change area codes.

Also, this would eliminate the problem of companies running up printing costs changing stationary and business cards.

The disadvantage?

"If you lived in Fremont and had a 721 prefix, and someone moved in down the street and there were no more numbers available under 721, they might get a 10-prefix number," Johnson said. "That would be confusing."

The commission is looking at these options to determine the easiest and most prolonged solution.

"Clearly, we want to look for the longest-term solution so we don't have to drag the public through this morass again," Commissioner Frank Landis told The Associated Press.

The AP further reported that the North American Numbering Plan Administration, which assigns phone numbers across the United States, has estimated that area codes could run dry in a decade. By 2010, a phone call could require dialing 12 numbers or a four-digit area code.

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