Inside the Capitol

Saturday, August 13, 2005

8-22 ABQ vs. the little guys

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Here we go again. The company that administers telephone numbers for the federal government says it will know by October whether New Mexico will need a second area code by 2008.
Even though it is three years in the future and even though we have no idea if it will be necessary, the fight has started.
An Albuquerque lawyer, who represented a group that didn't want to lose the 505 prefix, says Albuquerque has more contacts with out-of-state businesses than the rest of the state so would have to spend more money informing people of the area code change.
Possibly that is true, but it seems rather difficult to prove convincingly. Maybe there is a way to measure long-distance calling volume from all areas of the state, but there are many complicating factors.
And how much does that matter? Computers now can facilitate communication so much that telephone number changes can be located quickly. Yesterday, when I got a wrong number for a California company, I googled that company's name and had the new number in far less than a minute.
If that hadn't worked, I could have gone to the phone book and looked through three pages of area codes for major cities throughout the United States, along with a map and a listing of area codes that have recently, or soon will, change.
This isn't rocket science, folks. I'm technologically challenged, but found the process of locating a new area code quite easy. Arizona, by the way, has 16 area codes. I'm told by relatives that the changes are taken in stride there, with no more complaining than when a zip code is changed.
So it doesn't make much difference who gets the new area code, if it turns out to be necessary. The change won't be that traumatic. Any company knows who it deals with out of state and can notify those companies about a change, if it feels it will never hear from them again.
My suspicion is that Albuquerqueans just don't want to be one-upped by the rest of the state. That attitude hasn't surfaced yet this year, but it certainly did in the heat of battle three years ago.
When three of the five members of the state Public Regulation Commission voted to make Albuquerque change, the president of the coalition fighting the change referred to those PRC members as "backwater politicians doing dumb things."
The fellow must not have been from around here. In arid New Mexico, there aren't many backwaters. Those three commission members were from Las Cruces, Roswell and Crownpoint. Admittedly, Crownpoint is isolated, but there surely isn't much water around there.
Albuquerque's biggest beefs three years ago were that the PRC staff had recommended Albuquerque and Santa Fe not be changed. So had the company responsible for assigning area codes nationally, as well as an industry group that included the phone companies serving New Mexico's rural areas.
Evidence also was presented that no other state has changed the area codes of its economic and political centers in favor of outlying areas.
But when it comes down to the final decision, only one consideration matters. On an emotional issue such as this, commissioners are very likely to vote the wish of their constituents. That is what happened last time.
Four of the five commissioners have changed in the past three years, so the present commission may see things a little differently. But I doubt it.
New Mexico's elected governmental bodies have been redistricted since that decision. The Albuquerque contingent tried to figure a way they could dominate the five-member commission.
But it is difficult to dominate three of five districts with only about a third of the state's population. Add Santa Fe to that, and it's still not enough.
So no one should fret too much about the change. If it happens, politicians will make the decision, but they'll be representing their constituents.
MON, 8-22-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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