Phone codes to change yet again

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The Independent Online
TELEPHONE dialling codes in six areas of the country are to change again - in some cases for the third time in seven years - because telecommunications operators are running out of new numbers.

Phone users in Coventry, Portsmouth, Southampton, Cardiff and Northern Ireland will be given fresh area codes beginning 02-plus another identifying digit, while people in London will see the abolition of 0171 and 0181 prefixes.

One positive side-effect of the change in the capital will be the end of the snobbery inherent in having inner and outer London numbers. Instead of two codes, Londoners will all have codes beginning 020.

The changes, which will come into force on 22 April 2000, are being introduced because of the sheer demand on new numbers caused by the steady growth of telephone connections and the huge increase in demand for computer connections to the Internet. Added to that is the demand from new telephone services companies which have to be allocated numbers in blocks of 10,000 to pass on to customers.

Peter Clark, chairman of the national code and number change (NCNC) steering group, said that the new prefixes would give parents and employers greater control over certain telephone services, such as sex lines. From the date of the changes, adult lines and expensive premium rate numbers will be grouped together under an 0909 prefix.

"As well as giving us more numbers, the changes will group UK codes into clear and understandable families,"Mr Clark said. "Businesses are not the only ones affected. Everyone with a fixed telephone line, mobile, computer modem or fax machine needs to understand the changes.

"This is a vital step to take our phone system into the next century."

PhOneDay, in April 1995, paved the way for the latest changes. By inserting a "1" in every code, the path was opened up for future changes and more prefixes - meaning that 01, 02, 03 and so on can be allocated for different uses. However, there are no guarantees that these changes will last longer than the first decade of the new millennium.

In the capital, where businesses have had repeated changes of numbers - and expensive updating of stationery and liveries on vans and lorries - the London Chamber of Commerce expressed concern.

"Although business is helping the telecoms industry with these changes, we are concerned that they will be very disruptive," a spokesman said.

"We have known about these changes since January last year, and yet it is only now that we are getting some concrete information about them."