(AP) - New telephone customers in northern Wisconsin will be assigned to new area codes, state regulators decided Thursday.
The decision comes as the Wisconsin Public Service Commission grapples with a dwindling supply of numbers in the wireless world.
"Usable telephone numbers are a finite resource," PSC chairman Eric Callisto said.
New customers in the 715 area code, which covers roughly the northern half of the state from Eau Claire to Marinette, could get a 534 number as soon as mid-2010. Current customers will keep 715.
New customers in the 920 area code, which includes the Fox Valley and Green Bay, will get a 274 number starting in late 2011. Existing customers will keep 920.
The changes mean people will have to dial 10 digits to make any call. They won't face any new fees, according to the PSC.
Callisto said cell phones and other wireless communication devices as well as more homes with multiple lines are gobbling up phone numbers in area codes statewide.
The PSC projects 715 will run out of numbers in late 2011 and 920 by midway through 2012. The 608 area code, which covers much of the southern half of the state, including Madison, La Crosse and Janesville, will fill up by the beginning of 2013.
The 262 area code in southeastern Wisconsin will fill by 2023, and 414 in the Milwaukee area will run out by 2032.
The PSC has spent a year considering whether to give about half of the customers with 715 and 920 numbers new area codes or give new area codes only to new customers - a practice known as an overlay in telecommunications.
The commission has received about 250 comments on the issue, Callisto said. Most supported splitting up the area codes, saying that route would avoid confusion over two area codes in one region.
But all three commissioners voted for the overlay. They said the telecommunications industry feels it would be easier, and existing businesses would be spared the expense of changing the area code on marketing materials.
"I can't, in these economic times, place a burden on anyone," Commissioner Mark Meyer said.
The overlay option has grown more popular around the country over the past decade, Callisto added.
Of the 111 new area codes created around the country between 1995 and 2000, only 21 were overlays, according to PSC statistics. Of the 49 new area codes created between 2001 and 2007, more than half were overlays.
"It's inevitable overlays will become the way to go," PSC spokesman Tim LeMonds said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)