BOISE — Idaho used to be just one of 12 states with only one area code. That’s not the case anymore.
Early this year, people across the state began receiving the new area code — 986 — which is assigned to new numbers in areas that have exhausted their 208 inventory, according to Matt Evans, public information officer for the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. Before that, the original 208 area code issued in 1947 had been the state’s only area code.
Rather than assigning the new area codes through a geographic split, which would give half the state a new code while the other half kept 208, the commission opted for a geographic overlay, meaning that statewide, any new number will get a 986 area code, and existing numbers will keep 208.
They did this for two main reasons: because it is common across the U.S. and to help alleviate the chance of harming businesses on just one side of the state, according to Evans.
Making the decision to divvy area codes up geographically indicated there would be winners and losers, Evans said.
“One side of the state would have to get a new number, and it would impact small businesses,” he said.
Over the past several years, each state has made the same decision to overlay. West Virginia was the last state to try a geographic split, but reversed the decision soon after.
As of Aug. 5, 2017, all telephone users in Idaho must dial a 10-digit phone number.
The reason behind adding a new area code came from the shortage in number inventory, but wasn’t necessarily due to population growth, Evans said.
The proliferation of electronic devices — cellphones, paging and messaging services, alarm systems and more — played a large role in Idaho’s exhaustion of 208-prefix phone numbers.
The announcement of Idaho’s second area code came in 2015, but has been years in the making, according to Evans.
Although the new area code was available to telephone providers in September 2017, Evans said providers didn’t begin running out of 208 numbers until about February of this year. Some places in the state might never exhaust their 208 inventory and won’t have to issue 986 numbers until they do.
Since the new area code was implemented, Evans said the commission hasn’t seen any problems, aside from the few complaints they received from telecom customers in the first week of the new area code’s rollout.
“We didn’t really see a lot of trouble,” Evans said. “It went really smoothly.”