In the US and its territories, Canada, and the Caribbean, the organization and allocation of telephone numbers is governed by theNorth American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA). NANPA organizes the allocation of area codes and telephone prefixes to various phone companies.The basic format of a phone number in any of these countries is NPA-NXX-XXXX or (NPA) NXX-XXXX.
NPA:Area codes came into use during the early 1940s. NPA codes were developed by AT&T and the Bell System to divide the coverage area into "number plan areas" (abbreviated NPA).NPA codes are more commonly referred to as area codes.While the system was developed in the 40s, direct dialing of long distance did not begin until the early 50s. Some area codes arereserved for special purposes. For instance, area code 800 (commonly referred to as 800-numbers) is reserved for toll free calls where the called party is charged insteadof the calling party. Also, not all area codes are currently in use.
NXX:The next three digits of a landline number or cellphone number are called the NXX. The NXX is also known as the prefix or exchange. Various telephonecarriers will reserve blocks of telephone numbers by reserving an NXX within an area code. Like area codes, not all prefixes are currently in use.
At the time, rotary phones made it so that dialing lower numbers like 1 or 2 took less time to dial and dialing higher numbers took longer to dial.Area codes with lower numbers that were easier to dial were given to high population and high call volume areas.For this reason, areas such as New York (area code 212 requires 2+1+2=5 pulses), Los Angeles (area code 213 requires 2+1+3=6 pulses), and Chicago (area code 312 requires 3+1+2=6 pulses)received area codes that are much faster to dial than rural areas such as South Dakota (area code 605 requires 6+10+5=21 pulses).
For decades, new area codes were created through a "split" of an existing area code into multiple regions.Normally, the more populated region would continue to use the existing area code.The less populated areas would have all existing phone numbers reassigned to use a new area code to free up more numbers in the original area code.This process forced many into a new phone number which would require updates to letterhead, business cards, phone directories, personal contact lists, etc.Many people would dial the incorrect area code which caused confusion.
In 1992, area code 917 was created as the first "overlay" area code.With an overlay area code, the overlay serves the same geographic as the original to increase the pool of numbers available in the area.When the original phone systems were put in place, 7-digit dialing (without the area code) could be used to make local calls, and 10-digit dialing (with the area code) only needed to be used for long distance calls.In 1997, area code 301 was introduced as the first overlay with forced 10 digit dialing for local calls.Initially, there was substantial public resistance to overlays because of the 10-digit dialing requirement for local calls.However, the last area code split in Canada was in 1999 with the split of 403 splitting off 780 and the last area code split in the US was in 2007 with 505 splitting off 575.No area code splits are currently proposed and both countries have agreed: without exceptional circumstances, all new area codes will be overlays.
In 1998, the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA) estimated that all area codes for a 10-digit dialing system would run out by 2025.Something besides allocating more area codes needed to be done to improve the system.After a few trials, mandatory number pooling was implemented in 2002 with a national rollout to the 100 largest metropolitan areas.With number pooling, an entire prefix of 10,000 numbers is allocated to a specific area, but phone numbers are only allocated to a specific carrier in 1,000 block increments.Further, in US markets where number pooling is required, service providers are required to return blocks of 1,000 numbers that are more than 90% unutilized.
While several US markets are still not required to implement number pooling and Canada has no number pooling, the effects dramatically slowed the need to allocate new prefixes and new area codes because of increased utilization.The rate of issuing new area codes dropped to nearly half that of the 1990s.
While it may seem that all consumers in the US use a mobile phone, more than two-thirds of prefixes are allocated for landline use.A 2017 study by the National Center for Health Statistics, 43% of US households still use a landline phone.That number has been dropping by about 3.5% per year since 2010 (which would make the 2023 estimate 22%).Many businesses, home internet services, and voice-over-IP (VOIP) phones also account for increased landline usage.
The 900 area code is also currently used for premium services that are billed to the caller at higher than normal long distance rates.In the 1980s and and early 1990s, 900 numbers were frequently used to target children to run up phone bills, psychic hotlines, adult entertainment, computer help, etc.Legislative protections in the 1990s and the withdrawal of phone companies from passing these fees onto customers has largely killed the 900-number industry.
For looking up information on a specific phone number, the free reverse phone lookupallows you to see the name and address ofphone numbers listed in the white pages of phone books throughout the US. For unlisted or cell phonenumbers, we provide a convenient price comparison of popular services that allow you to search deeper forthe owner of a phone number.
To find information on a specific area code, use the area code lookup thatmakes it easy to find an area code by number and gives detailed information including city/state, timezone, andarea code maps. If you are looking for the area code for a particular city,you can search area codes by city using our area code finder.
For international numbers, we also include Canadian area codes.For dialing internationally, see the list of international dialing codes withinstructions on how to dial foreign numbers or dial U.S./Canadian number while traveling internationally.
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