There is an ever-growing demand for telephone numbers is impacted by the exponential growth in cellular phones, fax and pager use, and the demand for additional lines for dedicated Internet use. However, somewhat surprisingly, this is not the primary reason for new area codes.
Competition for local phone customers began as a result of the 1996 Act, allowing local telephone companies, as well as cellular phone companies, and paging companies to compete for customers. Therefore, they all required an inventory of numbers before they were able to offer phone services to their new customers.
As the telephone number system was initially conceived for a monopoly telecommunications environment, telephone numbers are issued in blocks of 10,000. As there are 7,920,000 available numbers in each area code, this means that there are only 792 blocks of 10,000 available within each area code.
Indeed, this has lead the FCC to decide that the numbers are not currently being used in the most efficient way. After all, even if only a small quantity of the available telephone numbers within an area code are actually being used, the area code will still run out of numbers once the 792 blocks of telephone numbers are claimed. The FCC is therefore currently investigating methods of providing telephone numbers with greater efficacy, and a reduction in the need for additional area codes.
Should all of the area codes be used, the dialing pattern used within NANP participating countries will need to be expanded by one or more digits. As it would take significant transition time for a new dialing pattern to be implemented, this will cause great inconvenience and expense. Therefore, the FCC is working on several alternatives to preserve the 10-digit dialing pattern.
Primarily, the FCC is working to improve the use of numbers, including by improving the information currently collected to study the use of the numbers, as well as requiring telephone companies to actually prove that they will need new numbers. This is only the beginning of the solutions in the works. Others will be much more technical, and include such thoughts as providing telephone numbers in smaller blocks.