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Oil of the telecom industry: FCC inaugurates numbering council
Telephony / October 14, 1996

By Larry Luxner

WASHINGTON -- Members of the newly established North American Numbering Council (NANC) held their first meeting at FCC headquarters last Tuesday, in keeping with the FCC's July 1995 adoption of a new model for administration of the North American Numbering Plan for the United States, Canada and 19 Caribbean islands.

"A very different landscape has emerged over the last decade," Gina Keeney, chief of the FCC's Common Carrier Bureau, told the 41-member council and some 200 people crammed into the agency's eighth-floor meeting room. "The NANP worked well, but things have changed. We are counting on you to put aside your parochial interests and find solutions."

FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, noting that "we're dealing with the oil of the telecom industry -- numbers," introduced NANC's new chairman, Alan C. Hasselwander. A retired chief executive of Frontier Corp. (formerly Rochester Telephone), Hasselwander has spent over 35 years in the telecom industry and recently served as president of the United States Telephone Association.

Among its various responsibilities, the NANC will select and guide a neutral administrator of the North American Numbering Plan, apply FCC policy to resolve issues arising in the NANP's administration, and conduct initial dispute resolution.

"In carrying out its responsibilities," says the FCC, "the council shall assure ... that the NANP does not unduly favor or disfavor any particular industry segment or group of consumers; that the NANP gives due regard to state and local interests; that it does not unduly favor one technology over another; that it gives consumers easy access to the public switched telephone network; and that the interests of all NANP member countries are addressed fairly and efficiently."

The NANC's 32 voting members represent AT&T, Cable & Wireless, GTE, Mobility Canada, MCI, Northern Telecom and dozens of other large communications companies. In addition, four non-voting special members represent ATIS, Bellcore (which actually administers the NANP), the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Finally, three ex-officio participants represent Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

"We have an opportunity in a significant way to build a level playing ground," Hasselwander told his colleagues. "To do that, we have to keep in mind the public good and the consumer, so everyone is treated fairly. And we have to be sensitive to our non-U.S. neighbors, both to the north and the south."

The NANC's inaugural meeting comes amid a flurry of new area codes sparked by a proliferation of fax machines, pagers and cellular phones that are using up available numbers faster than new codes can be assigned. In the last two years, a new generation of codes in which the middle digit can be any number from 2 through 9 has opened up hundreds of new possibilities.

Interestingly, the Caribbean's venerable 809 area code -- which has linked the region's nations and territories for nearly 40 years -- is being split up, with each island getting its own code. The first of 809's breakaway islands, Bermuda, was assigned 441 on Oct. 1, 1995. Likewise, Puerto Rico began using 787 on Mar. 1 and Antigua changed to 268 a month later.

Other Caribbean area code changes include Anguilla (264), Bahamas (242), Barbados (246), British Virgin Islands (284), Cayman Islands (345), Dominica (767), Grenada (473), Jamaica (876), Montserrat (664), St. Kitts-Nevis (869), St. Lucia (758), St. Vincent (784), Trinidad & Tobago (868) and the Turks & Caicos Islands (649). Within a year, the Dominican Republic -- whose phone lines are frequently used for "dial-a-porn" sex services or fraudulent calls -- will soon have 809 all to itself.

"It's a delicate issue," said a Bellcore spokesman. "The administration of resources is different in the Caribbean than in the U.S. or Canada because there are sovereign states involved. We are extremely aware of their national feelings."

In addition to new codes in the Caribbean, two U.S. possessions in the Pacific -- Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands -- will be joining the NANP for the first time. That means Guam's 671 country code will soon be converted into a regular area code, while the same will happen with the Marianas' 670 code.

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