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Area code switch threatens ISDN

California's new area codes could cause high-speed Net connections to stop working unless users manually reprogram equipment.

An estimated 15 to 20 percent of Pacific Bell's 124,000 ISDN lines in California are threatened by new area codes, a user group disclosed today.

The new area codes the telco will implement--five this year and five next, throughout California and including part of Silicon Valley--could cause connections to stop working unless users manually reprogram the equipment, the group said. Pac Bell concedes that the potential problem exists but says it is doing "extensive communications" with customers to avoid any surprises.

Users of other Net access technologies will need to reprogram as well, Pac Bell warns. "People with personal computers need to remember to reprogram their outdial list to reflect the new area code."

Many customers complain that the new codes are inconvenient, but Pac Bell says it needs them to handle increased traffic, much of it from Net connections, fax machines, and second phone lines. California handles more than one third of the nation's Internet traffic, according to some industry estimates.

The ISDN connection problem is a new wrinkle: Users' area code and phone number is contained in a so-called SPID, or service profile identifier, which initializes the ISDN connection every time a user logs on to the Net. But if the SPID is not changed to reflect the new area code, it may not work.

"Did you know that an area code change could cause your ISDN equipment to stop working?" asked an email sent today to CNET by the California ISDN user's group. "Pacific Bell has done everything they can to minimize the impact, but eventually you will have to change the SPID you entered in your ISDN equipment."

Pac Bell's ISDN product manager Michael Miramontes confirmed the potential problem. It stems from some, but not all, of the switching equipment used in regions where the area code changes are occurring, which requires that the area code be changed manually at the user's end.

Miramontes stressed that Pac Bell is actively notifying those who will be affected will in advance, to avoid any dropped connections.

Big ISDN customers will be notified by the telco's account manager, and residential users will be notified by letter and perhaps a phone call. In addition, information about what to do will be posted on Pac Bell's Web site within the next week, Miramontes said.

He warned that users should not reprogram their equipment until they are notified by Pac Bell, however. The switch must coincide with the reprogramming of Pac Bell's own switching equipment. After that, they will get 30 days to 45 days to respond.

Bob Larribeau of the California ISDN Users' Group said he was satisfied with the steps that Pac Bell was taking to notify users.

Pac Bell already introduced new area codes in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas earlier this year. But the big crunch comes later this year and next. In August some parts of Silicon Valley--most of San Mateo county and parts of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties--get a new area code: 650. The code previously was 415.

That area has "quite a few ISDN customers," Miramontes said.