Area-codeless local calls will largely go away in October — but for a good reason

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

In many places, you can call up a neighbor or local pizza parlor just by dialing seven numbers, as long as you have the same area code — but that ability will soon be going away, in order to make the National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline easier to reach. If you live in one of the areas where the change is taking place, you’ll soon have to dial 10 numbers whether you’re making a local call or not.

Each cellular carrier has a support page explaining the change (we’ll link to all of them below, and a list of the area codes will be included at the end of the post), but the basic gist is that, starting October 24, 2021, anyone trying to call a local number using only seven digits will be met with a recording telling them to hang up and try again with the full area code. The change will apply to landlines, cell phones, and VoIP systems.

Here are the carrier support pages for:

It’s worth noting that seven-digit calling isn’t going away for everyone — there are only 37 states with affected area codes, and in some of those states it will only cover specific regions. The change will still affect a lot of people though — there are plenty of states, including Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and New Mexico where the entire state will have to switch over to 10-digit dialing. People in large portions of Washington, Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, and other states will also be affected.

The change is happening due to an FCC order from July 2020, which mandated that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline should be reachable at a three-digit number, 988, to make it easier for people in crisis to reach the hotline. After the decision was reached, the responsibility for actually getting the system working was passed to the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, which is now in charge of making sure that calls to 988 end up at the Lifeline starting on July 16, 2022.

Please note that calling 988 will not connect you to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline until July 16, 2022. If you or a loved one is in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255.

The technical reason for why this change is required is reasonably simple — some phone numbers start with 988, so if someone were to dial a number like 988-9999, the phone switch wouldn’t know how to interpret it. Since there isn’t a 988 area code, requiring all 10 digits ensures that no phone numbers will start with 988 and confuse the system.

If you’re struggling to remember the last time you made a call without typing in the area code, you’re not alone — places like New York City and parts of the Bay Area have been requiring 10-digit dialing for years. Of course, tapping in a specific number at all is less common in an age of more messaging, fewer calls, digital address books, and phone number links on Google Maps.

Area-codeless local calls will largely go away in October — but for a good reason

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