How Are Area Codes Used in the United States?


Quick Answer

Area codes in the United States group phone numbers geographically in blocks issued to telecommunication providers and ensure that new numbers are available as those in an area are exhausted. The North American Numbering Plan Council selects a neutral third-party organization to manage area codes for five-year terms.

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How Are Area Codes Used in the United States?
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Full Answer

Introduced in 1947, area codes promote a fair approach to assigning and tracking phone numbers. While the North American Numbering Plan Administrator runs the system, it does so under rules set by the Federal Communication Commission and state communication agencies. FCC guidelines require intermixing all available telecommunications providers in an area code, eliminating the possibility of assigning a separate area code to a particular device type, such as cellphones. This practice prevents discrimination against new technologies and providers.

The rapid increase of devices is one of the greatest challenges of managing phones, as available numbers in an area code are used up. Exhaustion-relief planning is the process to mitigate that issue, and it is the responsibility of state governments to develop plans. Plans recommend either a geographic split or overlay solution. A geographic split divides an existing area code into two by map location. Typically customers in one of the new areas retain their existing area codes while those in the second receive a new area code. An overlay adds a new area code to the same location, letting all existing customers retain the old code, while new customers receive the overlay code.

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