Seven-digit dialing will soon come to an end

10-digit dialing will soon be necessary to make sure that calls to 988 get directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (Image by tegawi from Pixabay)

The days of dialing just seven digits and no area code to reach a neighbor or a local business are rapidly coming to a close for most people. Voice service providers around the U.S. — including wireline, wireless and cable — are notifying their customers that they need to start including area codes and dialing 10-digits when they make a call, regardless of whether that call is local or not.

The FCC is directing this change to make it possible for callers to reach the National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline by just dialing “988.” The 988 hotline was established by the FCC in July 2020 to make it faster for people to connect to crisis counselors and get help without having to remember a longer toll-free number.

And now the agency is considering expanding this to require text messaging providers to support text messaging to 988. In its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued last week, the FCC noted that text messaging is particularly popular with teen-agers and young adults and also those that are deaf or have speech disabilities. “Given the pervasiveness of text messaging, particularly among at-risk groups, we believe it is essential to explore making it as easy as possible to reach the Lifeline by text through use of the same short, easy-to-remember code by which Americans will be able to call the Lifeline,” the FCC said.

Why 10-digit dialing is required

The reason 10-digit dialing is necessary to make the 988 hotline work is because the North American Numbering Plan Administrator has to make sure that calls to 988 get directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If someone has a seven-digit number that starts with 988, the phone switch will not know whether this call needs to go to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or to the seven-digit number. By requiring 10-digit dialing, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator is able prevent any confusion to the system.

Most major cities have required 10-digit dialing for a long time, so this change will not impact everyone. In addition, there are some areas of some states that won’t be impacted — only 37 states have area codes that will be affected.  

Although voice service providers are advising their customers to begin 10-digit dialing now, if they forget and dial seven numbers instead their call will still be completed.  But starting October 24, anyone that attempts to call a local number by using only seven digits will instead be connected to a recording that tells them to hang up and redial using the area code.  This change impacts all landline phones, cell phones and VOIP calling systems.

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