CHAMPAIGN — Beginning in 2021, new numbers in the 217 area code could get a new one: 447.
Due to a shortage of remaining 217 phone numbers, carriers will start being assigned chunks of the 447 area code, which covers the same geographical area, beginning March 29, 2021.
"It may be years before you even see a 447 number," said George Light, an engineering analyst with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The 217 area code covers 36 counties in Illinois, including Springfield, Champaign, Urbana, Decatur, Danville, Quincy and Rantoul.
It was one of the original 86 area codes in the country, when Bell Labs assigned it in 1947.
But the 217 is running out of numbers, as the last prefix (the three numbers following the area code) has been assigned.
"All those three-digit numbers have been given to carriers, so if there's more demand, there's no more prefixes to give them," Light said.
A company under contract with the Federal Communications Commission first sought a new area code back in 2001, but the ICC said it tried to delay this as long as possible.
For example, initially, each company would get its own prefix, but in the early 2000s, prefixes were split into 10 pieces, Light said.
People who already have a 217 number will keep their number, but they will have to start dialing the 10-digit number with the area code, even for local numbers.
From Aug. 29, 2020 to Feb. 27, 2021, customers will be able to dial either the seven-digit or the 10-digit number. After that, the 10-digit number will be mandatory.
"Not a lot of people manually dial individual phone numbers any more," Light said.
But he encouraged people to update their contacts to include the area code.
"If people plan ahead...there shouldn't be too much disruption," Light said.