Public utility division officials at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission this month filed cases against five phone companies providing wireless Lifeline service in Oklahoma. Officials want to know if the companies have been verifying applicant eligibility for the program. Phone company reimbursements from the federal Lifeline program in Oklahoma jumped to $218 million last year, up from $90 million in 2011.
Kim Hart, a spokeswoman with Neustar Inc., the contractor that operates the number plan administration, said Lifeline may be a factor in the recent increase in demand for numbers in the 405 area code.
“There are a lot of contributing factors, including if new carriers enter the market, sudden regional growth or the adoption of new technologies,” Hart said. “There's a lot of different things. Increased Lifeline demand could be one of these factors, but we don't know that, because when the carriers request additional number resources from us, their applications don't include the purpose for the numbers.”
Regulators have two options if an existing area code reaches exhaustion. They can split the geographical area or add a new area code on top of the existing one. Cocke said the trend in recent years has been to overlay a new area code.
“The old-fashioned way was a geographical split like we did with the 580, and that reduces the size of the area code,” Cocke said. “We haven't had any area code splits since 2007. All the area codes we've been implementing since 2007 have been overlays.”
The trade-off for an overlay is 10-digit dialing for local calls, he said. But that's often preferable to the business expense of updating office supplies and advertising signs to reflect a new area code.
Oklahoma's original area code, 405, was split in 1953 to create the 918 area code for northeastern Oklahoma. The 405 split again in 1997 to create the 580 for western and southern Oklahoma.