Thursday night, representatives from the telecommunications industry, as well as local businesses and government officials, met at Gunners Restaurant in St. Marys to discuss the implications of a proposed area code change for the region slated to take effect in the first quarter of 2015.
Some area residents and business owners testified under oath before Administrative Law Judge Katherine Dunderdale and the assembled panel of industry representatives. Dunderdale said the purpose of the meeting was to hear from customers and that their testimony would be collected and presented to the state's Public Utility Commission (P.U.C.) for its consideration.
On December 16, 2010, the P.U.C. approved a plan directing the 814 area code territory to be "geographically split" into two area codes. The "split line" would run along the eastern boundary of Jefferson County, through Clearfield and Elk counties, and end along the eastern boundary of McKean County. The area to the east of the dividing line, referred to as Area A, would retain the 814 area code. Area B, to the west of the line, would adopt a 582 area code.
Those assembled Thursday night were unanimously opposed to a "geographic split" and in favor of a compromise in the form of an "overlay." An overlay would allow for those already with an 814 number to retain the area code, while all new numbers issued throughout the area would be assigned the 582 area code.
Daniel Monagle, an attorney for Verizon, said he supports an overlay over a geographic split.
"We have been consistently in favor of an overlay. An area code split creates winners and losers," Monagle said. "The losers, in this case, are everyone in this room who have an 814 number, and everyone in this county and several other counties in north-central and northwest Pennsylvania who would have to change to a 582 area code.
"That is the new area code that has been assigned to this area, that will have to be implemented if the commissioner maintains the decision to split. The only disadvantage to the overlay is the implementation of 10-digit dialing."
John Balliet of DuBois said in a prepared statement, "The ownership of numbers already assigned to existing businesses and consumers is the key impetus for our advocacy against the geographic split of our area code."
State Representative Matt Gabler, (R-Elk/Clearfield), who was present at the meeting, said that with the geographic split the towns of Weedville and Benezette would retain the 814 area code, while the rest of Elk County would be "cut off".
"As far as the impact of a geographic split, it introduces confusion. It would also be expensive to businesses, they would have to change signs, letterheads, business cards, advertising. It would create an un-level business playing field," Gabler said.