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Southeastern Connecticut residents may soon have a new area code to deal with as a 959 alternative joins the established 860 as a prefix possibility in all but the southwestern part of the state starting Saturday.
The change comes nearly two decades after Connecticut, which long was united by a single 203 area code, went through the wrenching change of adding an 860 prefix for residents in the eastern and northwestern parts of the state.
"That decision was actually more controversial," said Michael W. Coyle, spokesman for the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
The issue the first time around in 1995 was largely a question of "why me," Coyle recalled, as business people questioned why they, and not those in other parts of the state, would have to be the ones to reprint menus and business cards to comply with the new area code.
Now, he said, the change is less life-altering because people will be able to keep their old numbers. Only newly assigned numbers will be converted to the 959 area code, and it’s not clear exactly when the conversion will start happening — only that the state, thanks to the proliferation of cellphones, pagers, modems and other modern devices, is running out of 860 numbers.
And that’s saying something, because there are about 750,000 numbers available with each area code. Still, by the end of the year, the new 959 prefix should start appearing for both landlines and cellphones (as well as other devices), according to the regulatory authority known as PURA.
"The change will be transparent for most customers," Coyle said.
PURA said the most likely customers to receive the 959 area code are those requesting new service, an additional line or perhaps moving their service from one company to another. The new area code is the biggest change for phone customers since Connecticut instituted 10-digit dialing five years ago, which required residents to dial an area code for local calls that previously did not require a prefix.
The 959 number is being "overlayed" on the existing 860 area code service area, which means the new prefix will be treated just like the old one regarding whether a number will be considered long distance. In other words, a 959 number in Groton called from this area will not require customers to dial "1" in front of it, while a Hartford number with the same prefix will necessitate the long-distance indicator.
Prices for local and long-distance calls are not altered by the area code addition.
"Local calling areas and dialing patterns will remain the same," Coyle said.