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P.R. area codes still underutilized

(Credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly a decade after the island was assigned a second area code — over concerns that telephone numbers available under the “787” code were running out — it turns out that both area codes are still being underutilized.

A Federal Communications Commission report released this week shows that while only 56.7 percent of the numbers available under the “787” code had been assigned as of December 2009, more than half of the possible combinations under the “939” code — 58.3 percent — are still available, contradicting arguments presented in 2000 that the island would soon run out of numbers due to the wireless boom experienced at the time.

The federal agency’s “Number Resource Utilization Report” also shows that at present, there are about 8 million telephone numbers assigned to island consumers, although not all of them are active.

Puerto Rico was assigned the “787” area code in March 1996, marking the end of dialing the familiar “809” code for calls to several islands in the Caribbean region. The “809” was assigned exclusively to the Dominican Republic, which still uses it.

In Puerto Rico, the incumbent landline carrier, Puerto Rico Telephone, and the wireless and Internet-based companies share the two area codes.

According to the FCC’s report, there are 1.5 million numbers assigned to landline customers under the “787” code, while another 1.9 million combinations are still free to be assigned. On the other hand, there are more than 2.8 million numbers in use by wireless and other providers, with only 615,000 combinations left.

Meanwhile, there are barely 6,000 landline and 266,000 wireless numbers assigned under the “939” area code introduced in September 2001, representing a combined 41.7 percent usage.

When the North American Numbering Plan Administrator — the agency in charge of doling out area codes in the U.S. and its jurisdictions — assigned the “939” code to Puerto Rico, it did so in response to industry concerns that the adoption of wireless services was so strong at the time that in a few years, usage would eat up all of the numbers remaining under the “787” code.

While that may have been thought to be true at the time, the fact that the dust eventually settled coupled with the introduction of “number pooling,” a mechanism through which carriers were assigned telephone number combinations in blocks of 1,000 instead of 10,000, helped conserve digits.

Nationwide results
In its report, the FCC said telephone service carriers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico had about 1.4 billion numbers at their disposal as of December 2009, of which 672 million had been assigned to customers. Another 640 million were available to be assigned, while about 92 million were used for other purposes, such as administrative use.

While the overall utilization rate for incumbent carriers, such as PRT, was down, the opposite was true for wireless carriers — a trend also reflected in Puerto Rico where mobile usage nearly doubles fixed lines.

The most utilized area codes in the U.S. mainland are Michigan’s “947” prefix, with 91.6 percent of numbers assigned to customers and New York’s “646” area code, with 79.8 percent of numbers doled out.

Meanwhile, the report reflects a marked acceptance and use of what is known as number portability, which since November 2003 has given customers the option to take their landline numbers with them when signing up to a wireless carrier. In the last seven years, more than 85 million telephone numbers have been migrated from landline to wireless, while more than 4 million wireless numbers have been moved between wireless providers.

When NANPA made its calculations in December 2009, there were six carriers on the island: AT&T, Claro, T-Mobile, Sprint PCS, Open Mobile and Centennial. However, last year’s merger between AT&T and Centennial eliminated the latter, and its customers were given the choice to remain with AT&T or select another carrier. Still, the math remains the same: about 1.3 million landline customers and 2.7 million wireless customers make up Puerto Rico’s competitive calling market.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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