Idaho News
4:12 pm
Tue June 18, 2013

Your Next Idaho Phone Number Might Not Start With 208

The PUC estimates Idaho will run out of 208 telephone numbers by 2019.
Credit Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

In less than a decade, Idaho will likely join the ranks of states with more than one area code. That’s right, Idaho’s 208 area code is quickly becoming an endangered species.

This isn’t a new story. Back in 2007, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission said the state would run out of 208 phone numbers within five years. That’s when number conservation and consolidation kicked in. The amount of phone numbers available expanded when the state changed the way it assigns them.

According to the North American Numbering Plan, Idaho has approximately 820,000 208 telephone numbers available. Today, there are about 3.4 million 208 numbers assigned to Idaho.

Based on the terminology associated with Idaho’s phone number planning, you’d think the state was prepping for a sci-fi invasion; “exhaust planning”, “contaminated numbers”, and the dreaded “jeopardy”.

The PUC’s self-described number cop, Carolee Hall, has had the same 208 phone number for 35 years. After years of number conservation, Hall says Idaho will probably need a second area code by 2019. The shift from having a single state telephone number ID to two could be a tough sell for lifelong Idahoans. “People love their phone numbers,” says Hall.

Since the state recently went through some public comment and telephone number “exhaust planning”, Hall says the most popular, or diplomatic way to handle the transition is to deploy an area code overlay. That means new Idahoans would get the new area code. Veteran Idahoans would stick with their 208 numbers.

In 2007, Hall says many local businesses rejected the other option of a geographic overlay. That means everyone in Boise would keep the 208 area code while the rest of the state would switch to a new area code. “That creates a problem,” Hall says. “It’s expensive when you start digging into what the costs are to switch your phone number.” Existing businesses didn’t want to change their signs, advertising, and printed material to reflect a new phone number.

More than one area code in a state also means a switch to 10-digit dialing. Hall says during the last public comment period, 10-digit dialing was a hang-up for some. She suspects that’s changed in the last few years as more people use cell phones and program phone numbers into contact lists.

Still, Hall says when Idaho is within three years of running out of its 208 area code (the FCC calls this “jeopardy”), the PUC will start a new round of public outreach and comment.

Idaho is one of about a dozen states with just one area code. Some states like California and Texas, have more than two dozen area codes.