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2017 will be the year of the new area code for Idaho

A t-shirt that uses the 208 motif. Starting in late summer,

A t-shirt that uses the 208 motif. Since 1947, Idaho has had one area code, 208. But all 208 numbers are expected to be assigned sometime next year. So starting in late summer, Idaho telecom users will to see a new Idaho area code, 986. Photo by Jeff Heath.

Idaho phone users will start being assigned a new area code, 986, in late summer this year.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission will assign the prefixes to new phone numbers all over the state, not in specific geographic areas, said spokesman Gene Fadness. But Fadness said he expects to see the most rapid growth of the 986 in urban areas.

“In the urban areas it will happen first. There are a lot of rural areas that still have some 208s,” he said.

It’s been nearly two decades since Federal Communications Commission put Idaho officials on notice that the state would need a new area code starting in 2001. Fadness said the state responded by instituting a “numbers conservation plan,” gathering unused phone numbers from providers and assigning those.

“We were able to delay it 16 years,” Fadness said of the change.

By August, more than 95 percent of the 208 numbers had been assigned, according to the PUC, which said new 208 numbers would run out in 2018. The PUC started holding meetings around the state last year to let people know there would be a new area code coming.

Idaho is one of just a few states with only one area code, and 208 – which was issued to the state in 1947 — is in some ways tied in with Idaho’s identity. The creators of Idaho-themed artwork, jewelry and clothing use 208 as a proxy for the name of the state, and several businesses use the number in their names.

Idaho’s population is growing rapidly and is expected to continue doing so, but that’s not the reason for the new area code. Instead, new technology such as wireless phones, paging and messaging services, and Voice over Internet Protocol has created a steep demand for new numbers.

“We now have people who might have half a dozen numbers assigned to them,” Fadness said. “There might be a family where every kid has a cell phone. And if you use certain applications on your iPad, if you order and pay for certain apps, those have numbers assigned to them as well. Every ATM, every credit card machine, every security system, all of those have numbers assigned to them.”

Starting in August, Idaho callers will have to include the area code and dial 10 digits, or they’ll be asked to dial again. On Sept. 5, some new numbers will start being assigned the 986 area code.


About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.