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Ten Digit Dialing and Your Database

In this age of cell phones, faxes, pagers and modems, it's not uncommon for individuals to have more than one phone number. How many do you have? As a result, phone companies are finding out that seven digits are no longer enough for areas with a large population. There are two solutions to this problem. You could divide a large area into two (or more) sections and give each section a unique area code or you could implement ten digit dialing. Here in British Columbia, we have been through the first procedure and are now facing the second.

Even if you are not from BC, you may want to read this. Ten digit dialing may soon apply to you.

Area Code Theory

Several years ago, all of British Columbia needed only one area code (604). It meant if you wanted to call someone in Vancouver, Vernon, Victoria or Vanderhoof, you knew their area code was 604. One area code has room for less than 10,000,000 numbers. In theory, you could have numbers from 000-0000 to 999-9999. Unfortunately, not all these numbers are available. You cannot have a phone numbers like 011-3232, 911-4283 or 555-9272 (unless you're in a movie). The phone system interprets numbers starting with 0 to mean the operator. If you dial 911, you get emergency services -- the phone system won't wait for you to dial more numbers. Still, there are several million numbers available.

With a population of around three million and most people (not mentioning businesses) having more than number, those numbers were running out. The phone company divided BC into "Greater Vancouver" and the rest of the province. Now, if you wanted to call Vernon, you had to dial a 250 area code. Of course if you live in Vernon and you want to call your neighbour, you just dial the same seven numbers you did before. It only made a difference when you wanted to call a long distance number. Needless to say, anyone outside Vancouver who had their area code on their letterhead, business cards or other stationery had to get it all changed.

Now, the Vancouver half of the province is running out of numbers -- again.

This time, instead of dividing greater Vancouver in half and giving one part a new area code (and forcing a lot of people to get new stationery), the phone company is just going to add a new area code. Anyone who has a phone number will not be have their number changed. However, if you get a new phone number, you might get a new area code (778). This means your phone number might be 604-524-1593 and your neighbour might have 778-524-1593.

Updating your Database

So, what do you do if you have 2,000 families in your parish database and they all have seven digit phone numbers like 524-1593. Well, you could hire someone to sit there and type in "604-" 2,000 times. Or you could do a "search and replace" (or get your database provider to do one). If this is an option, you will need to be careful when doing the search and replace. If you search "524" and replace with "604-524", what do you think would happen with a phone number like "222-2524"? You guessed it, 222-2604-524. You would be better off searching for "524-" (the dash makes the difference).

If your phone numbers are in a database, there is a utility that will do the searching and replacing for you. You may not be aware of it, but the person who created your program should be. Discuss this problem with them and see what they can do. If they say "it can't be done" or it will cost more than you think is appropriate, feel free to contact me. Maybe I can can create a search and replace program for your phone numbers.

If you don't have the ability to do a "search and replace", you can always take the easy way out. Just assume that any number without an area code is 604 and enter new families with the full ten digits. As long as you don't use an automated system to dial the old seven digit numbers, you'll be fine (until you forget to put in the 778 and get a wrong number).

Was it this complicated when we went from five digit phone numbers to seven?

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Content copyright 2001-2009 David Marchak
This page last updated June 15, 2009