Preparing for the switch to 10-digit dialing

Joel van der Veen
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Can you see him smirking and smiling?

‘Cause he’s got us all digit dialing ...

So protest! Do your best!

Let us show him that we march in unity

If he won’t change the rules

Let’s take our business to another phone company

— Allan Sherman, The Let’s All Call Up AT&T and Protest to the President March, 1963

Fifty years ago, America’s favourite bespectacled Jewish parody songwriter spoke out against the inhumanity of all digit dialing.

Instead of using lettered prefixes for telephone numbers (CHerry 2-3189, for example), customers were expected to remember phone numbers that were seven digits in length.

Before long, those poetic exchange names would be history. Sherman wanted none of that; his tongue-in-cheek protest called for U.S. phone subscribers to take their objections to the man in charge.

Beginning in May, telephone customers in Saskatchewan will have to adapt in a similar fashion as the province takes on a new area code, made necessary by population growth and the boom in the use of mobile devices.

Rather than dividing the province in half or saddling Regina or Saskatoon with the new code, new 639 numbers will bump shoulders with 306 numbers, rendering the idea of an “area code” largely redundant.

As of May 11, all local calls will require the area code to be dialed first. Beginning Feb. 25, anyone who dials locally without those first three digits will hear a recorded message reminding them to shape up and fall in line, before their call is connected.

Eventually, we’ll get used to dialing 10 digits for those occasions when we actually have to manually dial a phone number.

But the transition may not be easy, especially for anyone who likes to keep things simple (that would be me), who dials a lot of phone numbers (like myself) or who has trouble adjusting to change (such as I).

I dealt with this business in Toronto. The city’s original area code, 416, was joined by an overlay code in 2001. Those with the old code were looked upon with envy by those suckers who got saddled with 647 numbers.

My hometown of Peterborough was also not immune to progress. Our area code, 705, covers most of central and northeastern Ontario; two years ago, phone companies started throwing 249 numbers into the mix.

When I arrived in Saskatchewan in 2010, I found myself in Davidson, where everyone had not only the same area code, but the same exchange: 567. This makes it simple to take down someone’s number, as they only have to provide four digits.

Bladworth and Girvin share the same exchange as Davidson; Kenaston is on the 252 exchange but is still within the local calling area. Craik, Aylesbury, Hanley, Dundurn, Imperial, Loreburn, Elbow, Strongfield ... all long distance.

(This may sound quaint, but it’s useful, time-saving information for a reporter making many phone calls. I was visiting recently and someone asked whether or not Simpson was a local call. The more you know, etc.)

Just like the discontinuation of the penny, I fear that this transition will take people by surprise, despite all of SaskTel’s publicity and warnings.

But wait! What’s this? In the small print on SaskTel’s website, I read that two small northern communities — Kinoosao and Uranium City — will continue to use seven-digit dialing for local calls past May.

SaskTel won’t upgrade their equipment right away, so the status quo will continue for the 150 customers living up there over the next several years.

Eureka! That’s it. Forget calling the president. We’ll all move up north in protest. They can’t force this on us. On to Uranium City! Who’s with me?


(Dial tone.)

Joel van der Veen can be reached at 306-691-1256.

Organizations: Eureka!

Geographic location: U.S., Saskatchewan, Saskatoon Toronto Uranium City Peterborough Northeastern Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Anon E Moose
    February 26, 2013 - 12:01

    There is no technological reason which makes this necessary... in fact even 4 digit dialing could be supported... the phone co can simply tack on the missing digits (use the same area code and exchange)... Since the phone company seems to be technically ignorant (or obstinate), I am doing this very thing myself with an ObiHai box at home. In fact, I use VoIP and bypass the dinosaur telcos all together!