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For years, Maine people have been hearing that our iconic 207 area code is close to being exhausted. And, for years, that has not come to pass. In fact, the area code end line keeps getting pushed further into the future. Recently, that projected date has again been moved forward, by more than two years, from 2027 to 2029.
Even with the good news, we wouldn’t blame readers feeling a little exhausted by the phone number exhaustion process. It might feel repetitive or even as if there was never a problem.
It bears repeating, however, that this 207 reprieve hasn’t been happening on its own or because this has all been much ado about nothing. Instead, it has happened because of the bureaucratic but nevertheless important work of the Maine Public Utilities Commission to try to overcome flaws in the underlying system for assigning phone numbers.
The truth is, Maine hasn’t been running out of 207 numbers. Not really. But an inflexible national system allocates large blocks of numbers to phone companies and has artificially moved Maine toward the end of the singular 207 area code in part because many of those numbers sit unused. For example, a report in recent years showed that Maine was only using roughly 40 percent of its possible numbers in the 207 area code. Clearly, this is a matter of how the numbers are allocated rather than an actual short supply of the numbers themselves.
Mainers, including this editorial board, made it clear that the single area code is an iconic part of the state’s identity, and worth trying to preserve for as long as possible. And state regulators have listened.
As the utilities commission’s chair, Phil Bartlett, told us last fall, the commission has taken various actions at the state level and petitioned federal regulators for reforms that could help extend the life of the 207 area code. Measures like pushing back on phone company requests for large blocks of numbers, working with the carriers to get back unused numbers and petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to switch how it gives out numbers aren’t particularly flashy steps. But these in-the-weeds approaches have already produced results, and hopefully will lead to more.
“Since we first became aware of the risk to Maine’s 207 area code, two things have become clear: that preserving the area code is important to the people of Maine and that we have tools to help do so,” Bartlett said in an April 26 statement. “Our staff is dedicated to preserving Maine’s single area code as long as possible.”
That continues to make sense. And it continues to be a worthwhile effort from the commission’s staff. Yes, the commission has a full plate of objectively more important issues to tackle, like the ongoing regulation of Maine’s energy grid amid skyrocketing costs. As Bartlett indicated to us last fall, however, the area code effort has been possible with a “modest amount of resources.”
Using modest resources to achieve promising results, on an issue that Mainers clearly care about, remains a worthwhile endeavor.