Sacramento region eyes new area code as 916 phone numbers run out

Mike Myers, 38, says he wants to talk to his parents more on the phone as his New Year’s resolution at the Farmers Market on Sun., Jan. 4, 2015 in Sacramento, Calif. Local residents may get a different area code if they seek new phone numbers starting in 2018.
Mike Myers, 38, says he wants to talk to his parents more on the phone as his New Year’s resolution at the Farmers Market on Sun., Jan. 4, 2015 in Sacramento, Calif. Local residents may get a different area code if they seek new phone numbers starting in 2018. rbyer@sacbee.com

Big changes are coming to the 916.

The California Public Utilities Commission said this week it plans to add a new area code to the Sacramento area in 2018. The new, overlapping area code will be given to new phone numbers within the Sacramento region as early as June 2018.

While a new area code sounds like a broken record to recent Bay Area transplants – the 415 welcomed the 628 area code a year ago – the Sacramento area hasn’t received a new area code since 1997, when 530 was split from 916. The 530 area code covers Davis, Woodland and other jurisdictions in an area stretching from Auburn to Chico.

Officials have not determined what the new area code will be, but it won’t be “722,” as some have suggested online. Seven, two, two spells out “SAC” on the phone dial.

Area code “722 is not available for us to assign,” said John Manning, senior director of the North American Numbering Plan Administration, which oversees area codes in 20 North American countries.

Manning said his agency’s chief concern when adding new area codes is to avoid confusion with existing area codes, number prefixes or special numbers. All numbers with repeating second digits are reserved for special uses like hotlines, emergency numbers and toll free dialing, he said.

Manning said the agency generally avoids duplicating the first digit, so don’t look for a “91” number either.

“Other than that, there is really no rhyme or reason,” Manning said.

The new code is needed because the 916 is expected to use up its available prefixes by December 2018, the PUC and Manning said.

The 916 currently covers almost all of Sacramento County and parts of Yolo, El Dorado, Placer and Sutter counties.

Manning noted that it’s the available prefixes that are in short supply, not actual digits. Mathematically, each area code produces 8 million possible number combinations. But the available numbers are diminished first by removing all prefixes that might cause confusion or are reserved for special purposes (911, 811, 555, 411, 311 etc.) .

The pool of numbers is further reduced by the way phone numbers are allotted. Until recently, each phone carrier was assigned blocks of 10,000 numbers for each geographic sub-area it covered. That resulted in thousands of numbers being stranded, Manning said. Numbers can now be assigned in blocks as small as 1,000, but the fact remains that the available prefixes within the 916 area code will run out without 8 million phone numbers being assigned.

If your number has a 916 area code, you’ll get to keep it, if the proposal before the utilities commission is approved. Once the numbering group identifies an area where digits are becoming scarce, local carriers meet to make a recommendation on whether to split a geographic area or create an overlapping area code.

Creating an overlapping area is generally easier on people, since nobody has to change his or her phone number, said PUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon. People will have to dial the full 10-digit number (even if they are across the street) once the overlap is effect, Gordon said.

Population increase is only part of the reason for the change. Before the proliferation of cellphones, a family of five would have one phone number. (Two if they were fancy.)

“In today’s world, that household has five numbers,” Manning said.

Created in 1947, Sacramento’s 916 was one of California’s original three area codes. The other two were San Francisco (415) and Los Angeles (213).

Sacramento isn’t the only area expected to see area code changes in the near future. The 805 and 619 area codes that serve San Louis Obispo and San Diego, respectively, are expected to add overlapping area codes, Manning said. And Los Angeles may wipe out the boundaries of the 213 and 323 area codes to free up more prefixes.

Sacramento-area folks with concerns about the change, thoughts on the new code or who just feel nostalgic about their phone numbers are invited to attend one of three public meetings being held by the PUC this summer.

The first meeting is at Sacramento’s historic City Hall at 1 p.m. on Aug. 15. At 6 p.m. that same day, another meeting is scheduled in the Folsom Community Center’s activity room. The third meeting will be held at 1 p.m. on Aug. 16 at the Roseville Civic Center.

News of the impending change prompted some area residents to make suggestions on social media Tuesday.

James Gwinup, an attorney in El Dorado County, suggested 459. His reasoning: It’s the all-time winning percentage for the Sacramento Kings franchise (including its time in Rochester, N.Y., Cincinnati and Kansas City, Mo.). Good news, James; 459 is also available.

Others expressed wistfulness for what has become a defining marker of the Sacramento region.

“This actually makes me sad for some weird reason,” tweeted Ray Yund, 24, who has lived nearly his entire life in Antelope.


Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis