Sorry Sacramento, you now must dial 1 to make a phone call. Here are the details

Why you’ll soon have to dial at least 10 digits and what’s next

Changes are coming to how Sacramento makes phone calls starting Feb. 10. Here’s a look at the new 279 area code overlay, and where the next changes will happen.
Up Next
Changes are coming to how Sacramento makes phone calls starting Feb. 10. Here’s a look at the new 279 area code overlay, and where the next changes will happen.

It’s about to become a little harder to make a simple local phone call in the Sacramento area.

Starting Saturday morning, landline phone users with a 916 number must dial a 1 and the area code to make phone calls, even when the calls are local calls. Cellphone users will have to dial the area code, but most will not have to dial a 1 first.

Why, you ask? It’s because the California Public Utilities Commission is creating an area code “overlay” – adding a new area code. People in the six-county Sacramento region who sign up for new telephone numbers starting on March 10 will be assigned a new 279 area code instead of 916, even though they are living in what is now the 916 area.

Here are some questions and answers, compiled with assistance from the CPUC:

Does everyone have to dial 1 and the area code from now on?

No. If you have a 916 number and use a landline, you must dial 1 first and then the area code starting on Saturday. But if you use a cellphone, you probably get a bit of a break. Cell users who have 916 numbers will have to dial the area code to make phone calls, including local calls, but most cellphone users will not have to dial the 1 first.

Why is that?

That is because the major cellphone companies configure their users’ phone software so that the 1 is incorporated automatically into the dialing, relieving the person from having to poke that button.

Why dial 1 at all?

State public utilities representatives say dialing 1 signals to the phone system that the caller is about to dial an area code. That way, the system doesn’t think you are dialing a wrong number.

When I dial the area code, does that make it a long-distance call?

No, dialing “1+area code” does not change how much a call costs and doesn’t mean that a call is a toll or long distance.

What about dialing 911?

That remains the same, just a three-digit call.

Why is there going to be a new 279 area code, and who gets it?

Phone carriers are running out of numbers available for new customers in the 916 area code. That is partly because so many people have bought cellphones in recent years. New technologies, like smart gadgets, also are using up phone numbers.

In the next few months, as phone companies run out of the last available 916 numbers, they will start assigning 279 area codes.

Is there a set date for that?

The CPUC says carriers have the green light to begin assigning 279 area code numbers on March 10, but they may continue assigning 916 numbers for a few weeks or months until they run out.

Do people who get a 279 area code have to dial “1+area code” too?

Yes, starting March 10, the same dialing process applies to the new 279 numbers as it does to 916 numbers.

What happens if I forget to dial the 1 and the area code after Saturday?

Your call will not go through. An automated voice will tell you to hang up and dial “1+area code” first.

Is there anything else I need to do to get ready for this?

The CPUC advises people to make sure their phones, equipment and services, such as fax machines, automatic dialing equipment, and internet dial-up and voicemail service are programmed to dial the 1 and the area code in addition to the seven-digit phone number.

Devices that are programmed to dial seven digits need to be reprogrammed to dial the 1 and the area code. That’s especially important for people who have medical monitoring devices, life safety systems, alarm and security systems, and similar types of services. Contact the providers or vendors for reprogramming if necessary.

Are there any other changes that need to be made?

Possibly for some. Businesses that list their phone numbers in advertisements or on Facebook who don’t already include the area code will have to start doing that when the 279 area code overlay sets in.

It’s a hassle. Is this new?

It’s not new in California. Similar overlays have occurred in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other areas. CPUC officials say people may feel confused and inconvenienced at first, but they will get used to it.

Who came up with the 279 digits for the new area code? Does it have a special meaning?

No special meaning. The number was chosen randomly by North American Numbering Plan Administration, a private entity contracted by the federal government to manage phone numbers.

Where exactly is the 916 and 279 area?

The 916 area code was created in 1947 as one of the original three area codes in California. It, and the new 279 code, serves Sacramento County, and most parts of El Dorado, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Placer counties.

Tell me more.

For more information on the changes, go to www.cpuc.ca.gov/916areacode or contact your telephone service provider.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak