Inside the Capitol

Monday, November 20, 2006

11-27 Area Codes

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- It was inevitable. Southern New Mexico was destined to get the short end of the stick in the battle over area codes. Albuquerque and Santa Fe feel they are just too important to be required to change.
The Public Regulation Commission studied hundreds of documents and held more than a dozen public hearings, but everyone should have known that all five commissioners would remain loyal to their constituents, who wanted to keep their area code.
The only problem was that there are five commissioners and two area codes. It's hard to divide 5 by 2. Three commissioners had to be happy with the solution.
Since it was obvious Albuquerque and Santa Fe had to be on the winning side, the problem was how they could add in another commissioner's district while keeping the number of phone users equal in both areas.
The solution was to not keep the numbers equal. Let the winners have more phones. Then they could argue that the area keeping the 505 area code has more phones, therefore, fewer people and businesses are inconvenienced.
The only problem with that is that the area that keeps 505 will run out of numbers almost twice as fast as the 575 area. Then it will be Albuquerque against the world. And you know who will win that one.
So, the commissioner from Albuquerque and the commissioner from Santa Fe threw in with the commissioner from northwest New Mexico to keep the 505 area code.
That wasn't too difficult to see coming. All three are Democrats. The losers were the Republican from southeast New Mexico and the Democrat from the southwest, who was beaten in the June primary.
And it keeps alive the old battle between the folks north and south of Route 66.
The other alternative was to let everyone keep 505 and new users would get 575. That solves some problems, but it means that your next door neighbor may have a different area code. With a geographical division, a map will give a good indication of area codes.
The folks with the new area code will have over a year to make the change. That should be time to use up most letterhead stationery and business cards.
But it wasn't going to work in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, which estimated their economic impact to be $50 million and $28 million respectively.
A few years ago, Phoenix split into three area codes. The transition period was only a few months. Some municipalities within the Phoenix area were split. It caused some heartburn, but everyone quickly adapted and accepted it as part of living in a growing community.
I have to admit to being pleased to keep the 505 area code. It's the same as the last three digits of my zip code. And 575 is too close to the first three digits of my Social Security number. I'd be sure to get them confused.
The split that was adopted bisects Taos and Rio Arriba counties, which will cause some problems because of the large number of small communities it separates. Had the dividing line run through the wide open spaces of the south, there would have been less inconvenience.
As it is, businesses in Santa Fe are advocating that all of Rio Arriba and Taos counties be included in the 505 area. And, they say, why not add in Colfax County too so that Raton will be included?
Several business owners who will receive the new area code are taking a positive outlook. They say it won't hurt them nearly as much now as it would have a few years ago because so much of their business is now done on the Internet, which makes it easy to change an area code.
My guess is that the rest of the state, outside the Albuquerque-Santa Fe axis, is flexible enough and resourceful enough to adapt to a new area code without it costing businesses in the area the $100 million that the Duke City and our Capital City over-projected.
MON, 11-27-06

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



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