Ten-digit dialing

In the United States and Canada, ten-digit dialing is the practice of including the area code of a telephone number when dialing to initiate a telephone call. When necessary, a ten-digit number may be prefixed with the trunk code 1, which is often referred to as 11-digit dialing or national format.

Traditional dialing procedures

After the implementation of the North American Numbering Plan, placing a local call within the caller's area code involved only seven-digit dialing. Callers dialed only the central office code (three digits) and the four-digit station number of the telephone subscriber to reach. For example, a person whose full national phone number was 212-555-7890 was able to call the number 212-555-3456 by dialing 555-3456.

In this case, it is only necessary to dial the area code for a domestic call when the area code of the called number was different from that of the calling number. Some communities on an area code boundary, such as Ottawa-Hull (613/819), Kansas City MO/KS (816/913) or Washington, D.C. (202) implemented exchange code protection schemes to ensure the same seven-digit local number was not assigned in two different area codes in the same city; this allowed the entire community to remain a seven-digit local call. Code protection is not possible for calls across area code boundaries within split plan cities where area codes have been added due to a shortage of available local numbers; these local calls became ten digits when the code was split.

The phone system often required (and now always requires) the caller dial "1" as a trunk prefix before the area code and number, to indicate to the phone system that the call will require a connection to another area. "1" is also the country code for the North American Numbering Plan including United States and Canada, and therefore must likewise be dialed before the area code for international calls made to these countries.

Typically such calls were long distance calls. It used to be that a call to a different area code was a long-distance call, with rare exceptions where a city falls on an area code boundary, but the significant growth in the number of area codes – and the shrinking of the areas they occupy – since that time has invalidated this assumption.

In Canada and some regions of the United States, placing a landline call with "1" before an area code where the outgoing call is in the same service area results in an automated recording indicating that the call being made is local. The "1" toll prefix is not necessary, even if the area codes are different. This is common in areas where overlays are being used. Landline providers have warned that dialing "1" when it is unnecessary could result in long distance charges being made even when they otherwise would not have been charged.

Cellular telephones have always accepted NPA-NXX-XXXX as a ten-digit call, even where a call is seven digit local, as dialing while at the edge of the local coverage area would otherwise be unpredictable as the handset is handed off between local and long-distance towers.

Overlay plans

The introduction of overlay plans as a means to reduce the need for phone numbers to change as a result of adding new area codes meant that one geographic area could be associated with more than one area code. This is disadvantageous to new service providers as existing providers can issue numbers in the familiar area code.

In response to pressure from carriers, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) have imposed 10-digit dialling for all local calls (even within the same area code) in the overlaid areas. The requirement has no technical basis, but carriers expected it would reduce objections from new subscribers assigned the less-desirable overlay code by inconveniencing everyone equally. Consumer groups and state regulators (the Illinois Commerce Commission and Citizens Utility Board for northwest Chicago, the NYS Public Service Commission in NYC) pushed back against the requirement with attempts at litigation, to no avail.[1][2][3] The requirement is unenforceable against PBX vendors and voice over IP operators as the dial plan is controlled by subscriber-owned equipment, which can be configured to send seven-digit calls to the original area code. It has also failed to stop a pattern of some subscribers paying third-party resellers an artificially-high price for a number in a desirable original area code like Manhattan's 212[4][5] or Toronto's 416.[6][7] A business which advertises a main number in a random overlay which did not exist at the turn of the millennium marks itself as a newcomer, or even as someone doing business from a mobile telephone, placing it at a disadvantage against long-established local competitors who first opened their doors in an era when there was just one telephone company and one area code.

The "1" before the area code is most often required only for actual long distance calls. Some phone systems in early overlay plan areas still do not accept a "1" before the area code for non-long-distance calls; all Canadian landlines follow this pattern. However, in the three largest US markets (New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago), the initial "1" is required even for local calls. All cellphones in North America ignore this and only require the user to dial 10 digits.[8]

The added dialing requirement, coupled with the need to remember which of the area's coincident area codes applied to a seven-digit local number, damaged the popularity of overlay plans, which themselves were introduced as a means to reduce the inconveniences associated with the traditional split plans.

As overlay plans have spread to more areas, 10-digit dialing in the U.S. and Canada is becoming increasingly common. However, most areas not within an overlay plan can still use 7-digit dialing for local calls, although long distance calls within the area code may have required ten or eleven digits. Eleven digits for toll calls became standard in all of North America by the end of 1994 to allow introduction of "interchangeable NPA codes" – area codes that did not have a 0 or 1 as the middle digit and could therefore be confused with the central office code – after January 1, 1995.

A few areas that are not within an overlay plan nonetheless require 10-digit dialing if part of the local calling area is served by an overlay plan. One example of such an area is the Fort Knox Army base in Kentucky. The base itself is served by area code 502, which is not yet subject to an overlay plan, but its local calling area includes cities that are now served by the 270/364 overlay complex. As a result, Fort Knox imposed 10-digit dialing for all off-base numbers when the 270/364 overlay was established in 2014.[9]

See also


  1. "The 10- or 11-Digit Local Call Fosters Anxiety and Shrugs". NY Times. 23 January 2003.
  2. "Days are numbered for 7-digit dialing". Chicago Tribune.
  3. "11-digit dialing due for everyone". Chicago Tribune.
  4. Span, Paula (1999-07-06). "Six-What? New Area Code Lacks the Status of 212". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-09-27.
  5. Kugel, Seth (2005-03-20). "The 212 Cachet: Now Available on Cellphones". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-27.
  6. Armstrong, Laura (23 July 2014). "Toronto's 416 area codes selling for hundreds, even thousands". Toronto Star. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  7. Carey Marsden (24 July 2014). "416: People spending a lot of money to get original Toronto area code". CIII-TV ("Global News"). Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  8. "Dialing Instructions". Verizon.
  9. "Ten-digit dialing takes effect Feb. 1 for all local callers" (Press release). Brandenburg Telephone. January 9, 2014. Retrieved May 22, 2015.
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