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Updated: April 24, 2024

Hanging on the telephone: 207 is safe for now, but what happens when our number is up?

phone screen held in a hand, showing Maine's sole area code, 207
Photo / William Hall
Maine's sole area code, the iconic 207, will eventually lose that distinction.

Two-zero-seven, the area code that's as synonymous with Maine as lobster or wild blueberries, has become an endangered species.

Thanks mostly to our ravenous appetite for cellphones and other mobile devices, available numbers with the distinctive three-digit code are going extinct. For years, the Maine Public Utilities Commission has been trying to conserve the supply, and recently announced there are now enough unused 207 numbers to last until 2033.

But there are no guarantees — except for the fact that 207 will eventually be used up. Maine, now among just 11 states with a single area code, will have to start dialing another one.

Officially, the new digits haven't been designated. But a telecom consultant and longtime area code expert has a pretty good idea what they'll be.

Meanwhile, some Maine businesses are worrying that a new area code will eliminate a powerful marketing tool, a corporate identity, a built-in trademark.

"We try not to think about that," said Rob Caldwell, anchor of the "207" television show, which airs statewide on News Center Maine. The show has no contingency plans for what happens when there are two Maine area codes.

Caldwell told Mainebiz, with a laugh, "It's like thinking about your own death."

End of an icon

You see 207 on coffee mugs, car decals and hoodies. "207 is heaven," reads a T-shirt sold by Kennebec Cabin Co., the Manchester building business depicted on another TV show, "Maine Cabin Masters."

There's a 207 taxi company, a 207 cannabis dispensary, a 207 clothing company and a 207 lobster business. The Law Offices of Joe Bornstein has a federally registered trademark for "207-Call-Joe," which occasionally flashes on the Time & Temperature Building sign in Portland.

There's even a 207 Day, a celebration launched by Portland Downtown in 2022. Held originally on Feb. 7 — think 2/07 — the day features promotions, sales and a citywide scavenger to boost wintertime foot traffic at local retailers and restaurants.

Photo / William Hall
The 207 area code lends its numbers to numerous businesses, including 207 Taxi, based in Portland.

The much-loved area code won't go away. Existing phone numbers that use it will continue to, experts say, and only newly issued phone numbers will have to adopt the additional digits.

Still, the loss of 207's one-and-only status will forever alter an icon.

Caldwell said the number is a central part of the "207" show, a magazine-style program of Maine news broadcast nightly by WCSH in Portland and WLBZ in Bangor.

The program launched in 2003 and was originally to be dubbed "Maine Street." But a friend suggested "207" to Caldwell and the name stuck. Perhaps because Mainers everywhere in the state can relate to the same three digits.

"207 completely and nicely sums up what Maine is about," he said. "In some ways, Maine is one big small town, and 207 brings us together. It unites us."

Conservation efforts

The PUC also recognizes the value of 207, which is one of the reasons the commission has been working to extend the area code's life.

For years, large blocks of 207 phone numbers have been reserved by telecoms without ever being given to customers. In 2020, the PUC began leaning on carriers to turn in the dormant numbers, enlarging the pool of those available for general use in the future.

In January 2021, the predicted "exhaust date" for 207 was 2025, according to the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, a quasi-governmental agency that regulates area codes. Now Maine has more time. The extension to 2033 is a year longer than the previous forecast.

“We are pleased that the life of Maine’s 207 area code has been extended again,” PUC Chair Philip L. Bartlett II said in a news release. "As these efforts continue, we will keep Mainers posted on the progress that has been made.”

The entire North American numbering system could run out of area codes between 2047 and 2053, according to the NANPA estimates. Should they come true, current phone systems that utilize 10-digit numbers would need to be reprogrammed for 12 digits, which could cost up to $270 billion, the Federal Communications Commission has said.

Welcome to the 258

When the exhaust date finally arrives, what area code will Mainers start using?

The big reveal: The new number will likely be 258. That's the prediction of Lincoln Madison, a telecom industry veteran in San Francisco who has been described by the New York Times as having an "encyclopedic knowledge" of all things area code. Madison says his accuracy rate in predicting new area code designations is over 80%.

The assignment of new codes is a highly technical, complex undertaking. Phone service providers and NANPA work for years to figure out which numbers will go where. The choices are limited by how certain digits function within the national and international call routing systems.

Based on the area codes that are currently unused and that are not restricted by NANPA, Madison told Mainebiz, 258 is the most probable addition for the state. But 383 and 673 are also possibilities.

"I can tell you that the first digit of Maine’s future overlay area code will be 2 through 9, but likely not 5. The middle digit will be 2 through 8, and the third digit will not be the same as the middle digit," he said in an email.

Photo / William Hall
Maine's area code is also the name of a popular TV show, whose logo is displayed at the WCSH television studio in downtown Portland.

Other possibilities have been floated, too.

"About 20 years ago, give or take, NANPA accidentally released their internal list of area codes tentatively reserved for various locations. That list, referred to in the industry as 'The Oopsie,' showed Maine having reserved 383 and 673," he said. "Many of the codes reserved back then have been swapped out, but it is noteworthy that neither 383 nor 673 has been assigned as an area code elsewhere."

None of those possibilities may resonate the way 207 has. Wouldn't it be nice if the next Maine area code was, for example, 208? Sorry, it belongs to Idaho. Like Maine's, those digits were created in 1947 under the original area code system. Seven years ago, Idaho added another area code, 986.

At the PUC, spokeswoman Susan Faloon told Mainebiz the state won't have a say in which number NANPA ultimately assigns to Maine.

But Madison disagrees.

"The state PUC or equivalent can request a particular area code, and NANPA will try to honor those requests if possible," he said. In over a half dozen states, regulatory agencies have sought and obtained a specific area code. In Tennessee, for example, the state got the 865 area code because the numbers, on an old-school phone, spell out "VOL" — a nod to the nickname for the state and the University of Tennessee, the Volunteers.

"However, most of [the area codes] are more or less drawn out of a hat," Madison said, "with the proviso that the number is often reserved many years in advance."

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April 24, 2024

hmph, is this all that important? seems inevitable. given the growth in population and devices that require a unique phone number. I wonder if they still recycle old land line phone numbers when they are discontinued? We got calls for 20 years on our land line from people looking to collect money from the previous owners of it. Try making someone believe you aren't the same family even though he had the same first name!

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