Tucson residents and millions of Arizonans will have to start dialing the area code along with the local seven-digit number when making phone calls, under new federal regulations set to go into effect in October.
The change — which is being made to accommodate a new national mental-health crisis hotline — will affect millions of phone users in area codes 520, which covers Tucson and Southern Arizona, as well as in area codes 480 in the East Valley of the Phoenix area and 928, which includes Flagstaff and much of Northern Arizona.
Phone users in the 602 area code in central Phoenix and the 623 code in the West Valley will be unaffected by the change.
The new dialing procedure applies to all calls, regardless of whether they are being made on a cell phone, landline, digital cable phone or a voice-over internet protocol (Voice over IP or VoIP) system.
Based on U.S. census data, the change will affect more than 2 million Arizonans, or nearly a third of the state’s population. Nationally, the change will affect 90 area codes in 35 states, plus the U.S. territory Guam.
The move to 10-digit dialing for local calls is being required by the Federal Communications Commission to accommodate the addition of a new three-digit emergency hotline number, 988, for mental-health and suicide-prevention assistance.
Because the first three digits of some local phone numbers include 988, those area codes will be required to switch to 10-digit dialing for local numbers.
Though the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number isn’t expected to be in service until mid-July 2022, callers in the affected area codes will have to start using 10-digit dialing for local calls starting Oct. 24.
Meanwhile, phone carriers including local landline carrier Lumen Technologies — formerly CenturyLink — are urging customers to begin using 10-digit dialing for local numbers starting April 24, six months before the change.
Local calls made to seven-digit numbers will still go through until the final changeover in October, Lumen noted in mailers sent to phone customers.
On and after Oct. 24, you’ll need to dial the area code, or you’ll get a message that your call “cannot be completed as dialed,” Lumen says.
Lumen Technologies said it plans to complete the dialing transition on time, but referred all other questions to the FCC.
“Lumen wholeheartedly supports federal efforts to establish a nationwide, three-digit dialing code for mental health crisis intervention,” Lumen spokesman Mark Molzen said in a prepared statement. “We’ve initiated changes in processes and procedures that will support the FCC’s required transition to 10-digit dialing in certain area codes.”
W. Mark Clark, president and CEO of the nonprofit Pima Council on Aging, said he’d like to see a lot more public education about the shift to 10-digit local dialing in the coming months before the changeover, adding that he was only vaguely aware of the change himself.
“I think the big issue is, the powers that be need to communicate lavishly about this change so people know what’s going on — I doubt that many people know about it, so that’s going to be important,” he said. “One thing we’ve learned through this whole COVID-19 situation is, the issue of technology fluency and capacity are major issues.”
Clark said he doesn’t see the seniors the nonprofit serves having any more trouble with the changeover than younger people but awareness is key at any age.
“Older adults have been dealing with change for a long time, depending on how old they are,” Clark said, citing the many area-code additions in the past several decades. “Some people will have challenges, others won’t.”
Beyond the inconvenience of dialing an extra three digits, phone users may also have to reprogram their wireless contact lists, call forwarding, voicemail and similar services, Lumen noted.
The move to 10-digit local dialing will also require the reprogramming of phone equipment now programmed to complete calls to seven-digit local numbers, such as medical-monitoring devices, multi-line business systems, fax machines and alarm systems.
Businesses also are advised to change any phone number listed on their websites, advertising or stationery to add the area code.
While 10-digit dialing will be a big change for affected Arizonans, phone users in New York, Los Angeles and many major U.S. cities already are required to dial 10 digits to reach local numbers, because of so-called “overlay” plans that have multiple area codes in the same geographic areas.
Meanwhile, the leader of a Tucson-based mental health advocacy group said the dialing change will be well worth the inconvenience, predicting the new three-digit crisis line will reduce suicides nationwide when it goes into service in mid-2022.
“There are reports that people call 911 in crisis and are put on hold, calls are dropped or disconnected,” said Christina Bickelmann, executive director of the Southern Arizona chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“When someone is in crisis, they need someone to pick up immediately and try to find out where they are and de-escalate the situation, until (emergency responders) can arrive to get them safely to the crisis-response center or a local mental-health hospital,” she said.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT 10-DIGIT DIALING
What will be the new dialing procedure?
A: To complete all local calls, phone users will need to dial the area code plus the local seven-digit local phone number.
Who will be affected?
A: Anyone with a telephone number from 90 affected area codes, including 520, 480 and 928 in Arizona, will need to shift to 10-digit local dialing (including any landline or wireless phone, cable telephone or voice-over-internet service).
When will the dialing change begin?
A: Beginning April 24, you should begin dialing the area code plus telephone number for all local calls, including calls within the same area code. If you forget and dial just seven digits, your call will still be completed.
But starting Oct. 24, you must dial all 10 digits for all local calls or they will not be completed.
Beginning July 16, 2022, dialing “988” will route your call to the new National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline.
What will you need to do?
A: In addition to changing the way you dial local calls, all services, automatic dialing equipment, or other types of equipment that are programmed to complete calls to seven-digit local numbers will need to be reprogrammed to complete calls to 10-digit phone numbers, including the area code. Some examples are life-safety systems and medical monitoring devices, multiline business phone systems, fax machines, fire or burglar alarm systems, other security systems or gates, mobile or other wireless phone contact lists, call forwarding settings and voicemail services.
What will remain the same?
A: Your telephone number, including current area code, will not change, nor will the price of a call, coverage area, or other rates and services. What is a local call now will remain a local call regardless of the number of digits dialed.
Phone users will continue to dial 1 + area code + telephone number for all long-distance calls.
You can still dial just three digits to reach 911 (emergency services) and 711 (relay services), as well as 211, and other emergency service numbers.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can still be reached by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255). (Cell phone users are already able to dial 988 to reach the hotline.)
For more information, go to fcc.gov/suicide-prevention-hotline