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February 10, 2020

Maine's iconic area code may soon be tapped out

Courtesy / 207 Beer Co. 207 Beer Co. in Brewer is one of many Maine businesses that capitalize on the state's iconic area code.

Maine is running out of telephone numbers in its “207” area code — a series of digits that has come to be an icon for the state, and for many businesses.

According to its docket, the Maine Public Utilities Commission is now launching an inquiry to explore ways of preserving the state’s single area code, in place since the codes were introduced in 1947.

Mainers are using more and more phone numbers, especially as cell phones have proliferated, and the PUC has said that the supply of numbers beginning with 207 will be exhausted by 2026.

If Maine were to add another area code, that could be troubling news for businesses that identity themselves with the current one. Among them: Lobster 207, a lobster wholesaling collaborative in Trenton; Elevate 207, a Portland-based cannabis delivery service; and the Maine television magazine program “207.”

In fact, the Maine Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions website lists 100 companies with "207" in their names; the vast majority use the digits as a synonym for "Maine."

And those commercial uses of the area code don't include the countless T-shirts, coffee mugs and baseball caps emblazoned with "207" and sold in souvenir stores throughout the state. 

Part of the reason for the scarcity of available numbers is that many potential 207 phone listings aren’t being used efficiently.

Phone service providers obtain the numbers in blocks of 1,000, but ultimately never distribute many of them when signing up customers. In fact, only about 39% of the numbers are actually used, according to the commission.

The PUC has asked the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees how numbers are allocated, for permission to issue a specific amount of numbers as they’re needed, instead of allocating entire blocks in advance.

“Maine's 207 area code is a strong part of our state's identity. Extending the life of 207 would be beneficial to Maine citizens, and the current 1,000-block regime is not an efficient use of numbering resources as demonstrated by the millions of numbers in the 207-area code currently available, but ineligible for release back into the numbering pool,” the PUC wrote in a memo last year.

Maine is one of only 12 states with a single area code. Among them is New Hampshire, which is also seeking FCC permission to change the way phone numbers are allocated in the state's current area code, 603.

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