209 area code map

People who live in the 209 area code — including residents of Tuolumne and Calaveras counties — are going to have to switch to 10-digit or 11-digit calling by Oct. 24, and nobody will be able to make calls by simply entering seven-digit numbers any more, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

As of Sunday, people who live in the 209 area code — including residents of Tuolumne and Calaveras counties — will no longer be able to make local calls simply be entering seven-digit numbers and will have to use 10 digits starting with the area code and, in some cases, dialing a 1 before that.

Anyone using a landline telephone will need to manually dial 1 first before the area code and remaining seven digits, for a total of 11 digits, or else they will hear a message saying the call can’t be completed as dialed. That will be required starting Sunday for all local and non-local calls, even when calling a neighbor on the same street.

Most cell phones automatically add the 1 in front of dialed area codes, but some people may also need to manually enter the 1 first before the remaining 10 digits. Phone numbers saved in contact lists will also need to be updated if they don’t include the area code.

The 209 area code was created in 1958, in a split from the 415 area code, according to the CPUC. In 1997, the 209 area code was split to form the 559 area code. The 209 area code currently includes Amador, Calaveras, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced, and Mariposa counties, and portions of Alameda, Sacramento, El Dorado, Alpine, Madera and Fresno counties.

Mathematicians and people who regulate area codes in the United States say that, theoretically, every three-digit area code has 792 available prefixes, and each prefix has 10,000 possible phone numbers, so each area code has more than 7.9 million possible phone numbers available.

Increasing use of phones and phone numbers has created the current shortage of available phone numbers in the 209 area code. The 209 area code is expected to be depleted of available prefixes by December 2022, according to the CPUC.

The simplest single thing to remember is that by Sunday, anybody with a 209 area code phone number will have to do 10-digit or 11-digit calling from then on. Entering seven-digit numbers will no longer work.

According to the CPUC, the Federal Communications Commission holds full jurisdiction over the telephone numbering system and area code administration. Going forward, under FCC policy and CPUC rules, the agency must adopt a so-called “area code relief plan” to provide more phone numbers.

So, a new area code will be introduced on top of the 209 area code using the overlay method, pending approval by the CPUC.

“The new area code will provide additional prefixes and new telephone numbers for customers requesting new telephone numbers,” the CPUC states. “For the 209 area code, an overlay is the only option to ensure the availability of telephone numbers in the geographic area.”

When that new area code will be introduced has yet to be announced. In April this year, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator filed Application A.21-04-007, requesting the FCC to adopt an overlay as relief for the 209 area code.

A factor in the need for 10-digit or 11-digit calling in the 209 area code, and eight other California area codes, is an order from the FCC to accommodate the FCC’s designation of 988 as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Ten-digit and 11-digit calling will be fully in place in the 209 area code on Oct. 24, and calls can no longer be made by entering seven digits, according to the CPUC.

All local calls, whether made to a telephone on the same block, next door, or within the same house, will require 10-digit or 11-digit calling — either the area code and phone number, or 1 + the area code and phone number, CPUC spokeswoman Julie Hall said Monday.

Ironically, the words people use to describe the act of making modern phone calls remain anchored in 1960s lingo more than half a century old. Historians say the last rotary dial phones made by Western Electric were manufactured in 1965, as 10-button and 12-button touch-tone phones were introduced.

Rotary dial phones remain in some homes as antiques and curiosities. Few people literally dial their phones any more. Furthermore, there are many more people alive today who have never dialed 0 for the operator, or dialed anything else on a phone for that matter.

Cal Tel, Sierra Tel, and other phone service providers in the 209 area code have provided some FAQ answers:

Who will be affected? Anyone with a telephone number in the 209 area code will need to make the change from 7-digit local calling to 10-digit or 11-digit local calling.  

When will the change begin? Beginning Oct. 24, 2021, you must enter 10 digits (area code + phone number) or 11 digits (1 + area code + phone number) for all local calls. On and after Oct. 24, local calls made with only seven digits may not be completed, and a recording will inform you that your call cannot be completed as entered. You must hang up and call again using 10 digits or 11 digits.

What will remain the same? Your telephone number, including current area code, will not change. The price of a call, coverage area, or other rates and services will not change due to the calling change. What is considered a local call now will remain a local call regardless of the number of digits called. You can continue to call 1+ area code + telephone number for all long distance calls. Three-digit numbers, including 911 for emergencies, will remain in place. Any 211, 311, 411, 511, 611, 711, or 811 services available in your community are supposed to remain in place.

Questions and comments about the 209 area code can be submitted to the CPUC Public Advisor by phone: (866) 849-8390; by email: public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov; and by postal mail: CPUC Public Advisor’s Office, 320 W. 4th Street, Suite 500 Los Angeles, CA 90013.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.