LOUISVILLE — A new 364 area code assigned for Western Kentucky will overlap with the existing 270 one, state regulators announced Monday, calling it the least disruptive option for customers.
When the new area code starts mingling within the existing 270, it will be the first time two area codes cover the same territory in Kentucky, according to the state Public Service Commission. But people won't lose their existing numbers in the region.
"This decision means that everyone who now has an area code 270 phone number can keep that number," PSC Chairman David Armstrong said. "The only thing that will change is that 10-digit dialing will be required for local calls beginning in early 2014."
The first numbers using the 364 area code may be assigned starting March 3, 2014, according to the PSC. Numbers attached to the 270 area code can still be assigned after that, but availability will depend on how many remain in the inventory of each service provider.
The so-called "overlay" option, with the new area code available to all new phone customers in the region, was chosen over dividing the 270 and 364 area codes geographically. Kentucky's westernmost communities— including Henderson, Hopkinsville, Madisonville, Murray and Paducah — would have gotten the 364 area code under the latter option. Bowling Green, Glasgow, Elizabethtown and Owensboro would have retained 270.
Public comments tilted heavily toward the "overlay" approach, the PSC said. Public information sessions were held in several communities, and PSC staff spoke to civic and business groups.
"Public opinion has shifted dramatically in the six years since the PSC last considered this matter," Armstrong said. "It appears that the public is much less concerned about 10-digit dialing than about the possibility of having to change phone numbers."
Splitting the region would have forced businesses in the new area code to change printed materials and signs posting their phone numbers, the agency said.
"I could have seen that as a huge problem for anyone in business," said Christian County Judge-Executive Steve Tribble.
The PSC was notified in April of the need for a new area code by the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, the agency that distributes blocks of phone numbers to providers and tracks when number combinations are about to be exhausted within area codes.
The growing use of wireless devices drove the need for the new area code. NANPA originally said a new Western Kentucky area code would be needed in early 2015 but revised that projection to early 2014.
The 270 area code was created in 1999 by splitting from the 502 area code region that includes Louisville.
The PSC's decision means 10-digit dialing — area code plus the seven-digit number — will be needed for all local calls within the 270 area code territory. Starting Aug. 3, calls may be made using seven- or 10-digit dialing. Mandatory 10-digit dialing will take effect Feb. 1, 2014.
Calloway County Judge-Executive Larry Elkins said the overlap was the preferable option. Many people rely on speed dial, which should help ease the transition, he said.
"I suspect folks will get used to the new area code dialing," Elkins said.
The PSC noted that the overlay option has been used in all but one of the last 24 area codes created nationwide.