Recently, I passed on the word that to find out who your long-distance carrier is – or your neighbor’s, if you’re across the way using her phone – just dial 700-555-4141. It’s free.

However nothing, it seems, is quite so simple, and I got lots of interesting feedback.

Michael Rosner: “Although the 700-555-4141 number is free, most 700 numbers are not. From what my local phone company has told me, they actually fall into the same category as 900 numbers, and other premium toll call numbers. At least for my telco, when 900 and related numbers are blocked from a phone line, the 700 numbers are blocked also. Unfortunately, this includes the free 700-555-4141. So for me, I have to read my phone bill to check my long distance carrier. Another free phone trick I know of is 958. In my area at least, dialing these three digits will tell you the number of the phone you are calling from.”

Marc Weinstein: “It’s not necessary to do the 700# to find out who your long distance carrier is. Simply press “0” twice!”

Alan Light: “700-555-4141 wouldn’t work from our phone (‘beep beep beep. We’re sorry – your number cannot be completed as dialed from the phone you are using; please check the instruction card and dial again’). Maybe it’s because our phone service is through AOL?”

John Dicks: “I’m disappointed. You of all people need to know about and have either a 700 or 500 number! Here’s the deal: For about $5 a month (only thru AT&T), you get a number (which you get to choose – so you can make it easy to remember) which you can give to special people through which they can always reach you! It allows you to program the number such that it rings wherever you ‘call forward’ it to. In other words, my kids can always reach me no matter what office or hotel I might happen to be [in]. Granted you can do that with call forwarding, but I don’t want to forward all of my home or office calls – only the ones calling with my 500 number. And it makes it wonderfully simple for ‘the chosen ones’ to remember – as opposed to leaving them a list of numbers. Your responsibility is simply to call your own number periodically and update it. Incidentally, people can call you by dialing ‘1’ and the number, thus making them pay for it, or ‘0’ and the number and enter a PIN which makes you pay for it.”

Bob Wicker: “Have I just been hoaxed by you? I called that 700 # in your column today and the recorded message said I was just activated to Worldcom. Now what do I do? I’m not sure who had my account before and I thought it would be nice to know. Little did I know I was changing my long distance carrier … and I sure as heck wasn’t prepared to do that … at least automatically … without knowing a thing about the new carrier.”

A.T.: Bob wasn’t hoaxed. Turns out his carrier is a subsidiary of Worldcom, and he just didn’t know it.

Meanwhile, of my plans for 600- and 400-numbers – “and the 777-numbers (for gamblers?) and 666-numbers (devil-worshippers?) and 555-numbers (fictional TV characters?)” – my sharp friend Dorothy writes:

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the ‘she’ who hands out area codes is NANPA, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator. I believe NANPA is run by Bellcore. They hand out area codes to geographical areas as the old ones are ‘exhausted.’ The new ones are generally introduced to a split-off portion of the old area, but occasionally, the new NPA (telephonese for area code, e.g. Numbering Plan Area) is ‘overlayed’ on the old area. (Didn’t Manhattan get an overlay a few years ago?)

Incidentally, the 888 NPA — introduced just a couple of years ago to augment the toll free 800 numbers — is almost exhausted. The new toll free NPA will be 887 and will be introduced shortly.

Complete number exhaust, if we continue to assign numbers at the present rate, should occur around 2005. Telephone companies all over the country are trying to figure out ways to conserve numbers to avoid exhaust. In the years 1996, 1997 and 1998, California will have introduced THIRTEEN new NPAs! I think just about all possible NPAs have been assigned and are just waiting to be rolled out when needed.

Incidentally, the scuttlebutt in the industry says that, within the next 10 years or so, you will get a number and it will be yours for life, regardless of where you live. Yet numbers do not ‘belong’ to customers; by law they belong to the phone company.

The public likes to blame THE PHONE COMPANY when an NPA split occurs, but, of course, the telcos don’t do these exercises just for fun. In fact it is enormously expensive for them to roll out a new NPA. Blame all the users – us – of secondary residence lines, cell phones, pagers, etc.


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