City hopes to take extra four digits off the hook

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117269389513642.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Ald. Nancy Johnson (D-8) introduced a resolution to urge state legislators to pressure the ICC regarding the new 779 area code.‘);

Rockford aldermen are dialing in on making local phone calls easier on the fingers.

Since Feb. 17, residential users have been required to dial “1-815” plus the seven-digit local number they’re calling. Cell phone users do not have to dial 1, but the area code is still necessary to place local calls.

Prior to Feb. 17, only seven digits were required to place a local call, which will leave some trying to get used to the new system for quite some time.

This is the result of the Illinois Commerce Commission’s (ICC) 2004 decision to overlay the new 779 area code into 815, rather than split 815 into two area codes. The commission’s chairman is former Rockford Mayor Charles Box. The new area code is necessary to keep up with the demand for new numbers.

Dialing 11 digits, simply to phone a neighbor down the street, has some calling for a better way of introducing the new area code.

“It’s no secret that it’s probably not the favorite of anybody in this room, and not of constituents,” remarked Ald. Nancy Johnson (D-8), who read in a resolution regarding the matter at the Feb. 26 Rockford City Council meeting. Johnson referred the resolution to the Legislative Advisory and Lobbying Committee, which was created earlier in the month.

The Legislative Advisory and Lobbying Committee consists of three representatives from each caucus who meet as needed to address downstate legislative needs. This is the city’s fourth standing committee.

“We strongly encourage the committee to act on our behalf by petitioning our state legislators to pressure the ICC into overturning their decision,” Johnson indicated.

State Senator Dave Syverson (R-34) is already on the line with the ICC to discuss better ways of implementing the new 779 area code. Aldermen want to join the fight.

“I hope that we join in and inquire, and suggest to the phone company that we, the City of Rockford, would prefer to go back to the old way of just dialing a regular number,” noted Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13). “It seems a little odd that a community of 155,000-plus,” McNeely added, “would have to make those additional four numbers to make those calls.”

McNeely suggested the extra four digits should only be required for Rockford’s surrounding communities.

Sen. Syverson argues dialing 11 digits could create undue hardship for children and seniors. Syverson thinks splitting 815 into two area codes would be a much better option, and one that affects less people. Syverson’s idea is to split the area codes around the DeKalb area.

State Rep. Ron Wait (R-Belvidere) has since joined Syverson in pushing for the split of the 815 area code.

The ICC, however, contends the overlay was the most popular option when public hearings were held in 2004, and the decision is not likely to be reversed.

911 calls are unaffected and may be dialed normally.

From the Feb. 28-March 6, 2007, issue

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