Business feature: Cell phone providers readying for switch

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Phone companies are offering to reprogram cell phones for free to help subscribers adjust to the permanent switch to the 575 area code that takes effect next month.

About three-fourths of the state, including eastern New Mexico will be assigned the 575 area code.

The state Public Regulation Commission approved splitting the state into two area codes in 2006 to address increasing cell phone and telephone numbers in the state.

Permissive dialing started last year to acclimate the public to the new area codes. On Oct. 5 callers must dial the appropriate area codes to complete their call to the desired party.

Alltel Communications Manager Scott Morris said subscribers can have their phones reprogramed at retail centers or call technical support and reprogram their phones themselves.

Morris said subscribers will be responsible for updating area code information in their phone’s contact list.

The process will be easier for 98 percent of Plateau wireless subscribers, according to Joel Drahman, Plateau Wireless chief operating officer.

Drahman said the wireless telecommunication company will broadcast a signal during the first weekend of October that will automatically change the area codes programed into customers’ cell phones, including the numbers in their phone’s contact lists.

“We think it’s going to be painless for everybody,” he said.

However, Plateau subscribers with analog cell phones will have to have their cell phones reprogramed at retail centers.

Drahman said the phone company will call each subscriber and send letters informing them about the new area codes before the area code split takes effect permanently.

Sprint cell phone subscribers can call the company’s customer service line or go to a retail center for assistance in reprograming their cell phones, according to the Sprint Web site.

According to the Web site, subscribers’ service will be interupted if they don’t reprogram their phones.

Until the end of the year, callers will hear an automated message prompting them to use the correct area code. After Jan. 11 telephone companies will be able to assign the same seven-digit telephone numbers in both area codes.