In this June 18, 2020, file photo, wearing matching masks, Anthony Sockabasin-Martin, 6, and his mom, Lisa Sockabasin, smile as they watch something on Lisa’s phone while attending an event. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Maine’s congressional delegation is calling on the U.S. government to protect the state’s only area code from exhaustion.

That comes as the latest forecast shows Maine’s iconic 207 area code could be completely exhausted by the end of 2024, leaving regulators no choice but to split the state into two area codes. Despite that pending exhaustion, nearly 63 percent of possible 207 numbers are currently unused, according to a Maine Public Utilities Commission petition.

In a letter dated Aug. 11 to Federal Communications Commission acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, U.S. Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King called the 207 area code a “cultural touchstone” and its preservation a “matter of efficiency.”

“Maine has had its single area code since 1947, leading 207 to become widely used as a shorthand for Maine identity. Across our state, there are businesses and organizations that incorporate 207 into their branding. In short, for Mainers, 207 is synonymous with their home state, and it would be a great disappointment to lose this one-to-one link — especially if it can be reasonably avoided,” the delegation wrote.

They said splitting Maine into two area codes could cause “disruption” across the state, creating “substantial inconvenience for consumers and economic costs for businesses” accustomed to omitting the area code in signage and marketing materials.

In response to the dwindling pool of available 207 phone numbers, the Maine Public Utilities Commission opened an investigation into Verizon Wireless’ phone numbering practices earlier this month.

Commissioners want Verizon to provide them with details about available phone numbers, percent usage at its rate centers and an explanation for why the carrier’s forecasted growth is greater than historical rates.

“Based on data we have received, Verizon may be using unrealistic forecasting goals, unnecessarily tying up available phone numbers,” Phil Bartlett, the commission’s chair, said in announcing the probe.

Under Federal Communications Commission rules, numbers are allocated to carriers in 1,000-number blocks, but numbers may go unused particularly when large blocks are reserved for small towns. In recent years, the Maine utilities commission has worked with carriers to free more than 600,000 numbers for the 207 area code pool.

Both Maine regulators and the congressional delegation want the Federal Communications Commission to allow Maine to try allocating phone numbers to carriers one at a time rather than in large blocks.

“This proposal would address gaping inefficiencies in the current system and allow Mainers to use the 207 area code exclusively for many years to come,” the delegation said in the letter.