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If you haven’t been adding the 509 area code for local calls, you’ll have to soon

UPDATED: Fri., April 2, 2021

Rolm Model computerized telephone from 1983.  (Spokesman-Review archives)
Rolm Model computerized telephone from 1983. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Landline users may need to adjust their dialing habits.

Starting April 24, the 509 area code can be dialed even when making a local call. By October, local calls in Eastern Washington won’t work unless the area code is dialed.

Some phone customers in Eastern Washington haven’t been able to dial 10-digit numbers within the 509 area code. But more than 80 area codes in 36 states will have to change to 10-digit dialing by July 2022 after the Federal Communications Commission created a three-digit suicide prevention hotline (988) this summer.

Right now, anyone who wants to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has to dial (800) 273-TALK. To prepare for the 988 rollout, the FCC mandated that every area code that has phone numbers with a 988 prefix – the set of three numbers after an area code – switch to 10-digit dialing.

Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission Media and Communications Manager Emilie Brown said that seven-digit dialing is generally being phased out nationwide. Regulators required 10-digit dialing for Western Washington area codes in 2017.

Brown noted that the switch to 10-digit dialing won’t impact many people. Most carriers already have been allowing their customers to dial 509 for local calls.

“The biggest change will just be for those last few customers who only have landline phones,” Brown said.

Most people who rely heavily on landlines tend to be older, Brown said, so the Utilities and Transportation Commission will do targeted outreach for those groups. Landline users will have six months to get in the habit of dialing 10 digits. Starting in October, seven-digit dialing might not work.

Brown said people with medical alert devices or security systems linked to seven-digit numbers should make sure they reprogram their equipment if necessary.

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