Politics & Other Mistakes: Code breaker

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The most crucial issue facing Maine in these dire times isn’t surging COVID-19 infections.

It isn’t the decimation of the lobster industry by federal rules to safeguard right whales.

It isn’t a declining and aging population in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

Climate change? Nope. The worker shortage? No way. The Central Maine Power Co. corridor through western Maine? Uh uh. Dog poop on sidewalks? Just dispose of it. Bruce Poliquin? See previous answer.

Al DiamonIf we’re to believe our congressional delegation and the Maine Public Utilities Commission (and who would dare disbelieve two such august assemblages), the threat most likely to render what’s left of this state a virtual wasteland of despair and disconnection is the possibility we soon may need another telephone area code.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, the state’s 207 area code, which Maine has had since Alexander Graham Bell himself bestowed it upon us shortly after inventing the cotton gin, is going to run out of numbers sometime in the next three years.

The reasons are complicated, but it may boil down to this:

In my house, there are only two people, but we have three phone numbers: a landline and two cell phones. Obviously, we’re the problem, and to rectify it, I’m willing to give up my cell and stop answering the landline, so I’ll never again receive another robocall or cranky reminder from an editor.

Except, it turns out my wife and I aren’t the cause of this disaster.

Instead, it’s the FCC, itself. Numbers are allocated to phone companies in blocks of 1,000. That’s the way it’s always been done, and apparently, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. The problem with this method is most of those numbers never get used. But they also don’t get returned to the pool of available digits.

According to a PUC report, “If the provider utilizes more than 100 of those numbers, that block is considered ‘contaminated’ and the block is then reserved for the exclusive use of that provider.”

In other words, 900 of those numbers have cooties and might never be used. In the realm of phone utilities, this is characterized as “inefficiencies.” In the real world, this is what is known as a stupid.

Our esteemed congresspersons estimate only 37 percent of the numbers that have been given out are actually used to make or receive calls. They say that if numbers were passed out in smaller blocks or even individually, there’d be enough to last for decades.

So, it appears this problem could be easily solved – except government bureaucracy has never, ever easily solved anything. To date, the FCC has given no indication it will address this issue.

The consequences will be dire. News Center Maine is going to have to find another name for its nightly “207” program, because it airs in both the Portland and Bangor markets, and under the revised setup, they’re unlikely to share an area code. Brewer’s 207 Beer could find itself in the wrong zone for its number. Or maybe northern Maine will keep 207, and the south will be burdened with a new code. In that case, Taqueria 207 in Old Orchard Beach and the 207 Tavern in Eliot will face numerical revision.

Phones will have to be reprogrammed. Friends and relatives will have to be notified. Text messages will go astray. And according to the congressional delegation, the state will lose a “cultural touchstone,” whatever the hell that is.

If the FCC refuses to address this crisis, the only option for Maine is to demand another area code that’s both memorable and indicative of the state’s image. Unfortunately, most of the obvious choices have already been taken. Western Washington state grabbed 206. Idaho got 208. 307 went to Wyoming, and 407 belongs to central Florida. Southern Nevada has dibs on 702.

A fresh approach is required, something with deep cultural symbolism that reflects Maine’s place not only in the nation but the universe.

I’m going with 666.

If the toll charges turn out to be hell to pay, use email. Mine is [email protected].