Oregon Businesses Brace for 541 Area Code as Grace Period Ends
By Sherri Buri, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 27--Julie Schulte, who works at a Eugene-area computer data
company, is trying to stay ahead of the area-code eight ball. Two
weeks ago, she sent faxes to all her firm's customers and suppliers
asking them to call her company to test the new 541 area code.
"It worked for 95 percent of the people -- either that, or they never
called," she says.
Troubleshooting for the remaining five percent is a time-consuming hassle,
At least two clients, one in Ontario, Canada, and another in Willow
Brook, Ill., couldn't get through using the new number, she says.
Schulte says it's awkward to tell clients they must change their
telephone equipment or contact their local telephone carrier in order
to reach her business.
"It's not anything that US West or we've done locally," Schulte says. "It's
companies all over the world that have systems that haven't been reprogrammed."
July 1 marks the end of the eight-month grace period during which
callers could use either 503 or 541 to reach Oregon's new calling
area. That area, established last November, covers virtually all of
the state except the northwest corner including Portland and Salem.
Telephone company officials and regulators are optimistic about the
changeover. Many businesses and small towns upgraded their equipment
to handle area codes lacking a 0 or a 1 in the middle when Washington
and other states introduced new codes, they say. That smoothed the way
"We've had very few concerns or problems," says Mike Allegre, a
spokesman for the state Public Utilities Commission.
"The ones we're most concerned with are small, underdeveloped
countries, in Central America or Africa where we know old telephone
equipment exists and they may not get around to changing (it)," he
Monday shouldn't bring any catastrophes, but it will be filled with
annoyances, predicts Dennis Gabriel, area manager for Shared
Communications Services, a Salem-based telecommunications consulting
and management company.
"I'm sure people are going to be burning up the phone lines trying to figure
out what's going on," he says.
Cellular users who haven't bothered to reprogram their phones will
find they don't work. Computer users who haven't updated automatic
dialing features may wonder what's wrong with their modems. Speed-
dialing fans who haven't changed preprogrammed numbers won't reach the
party they called. Instead, they'll hear a recorded reminder to use
Even with eight months' notice, many people have waited until the last
minute, Gabriel says.
"It's kind of like paying your taxes the night before they're due," he says.
Despite sending many notices, cellular phone providers expect to see
frantic customers on Monday. To handle the onslaught, AT&T Wireless
added a full-time temporary worker to reprogram cellular phones at its
center in Valley River Drive in Eugene. The center will dedicate its
conference room to reprogramming on Monday, says Keith Nastiuk, the
firm's Lane County market manager.
The company doesn't have an accurate count of how many people still
need to reprogram their phones, but many do, he says. Customers can do
it themselves by calling (800) 260-9772. An operator will guide
customers through the process. But as the Monday deadline approaches,
that number is often busy.
Customers using AirTouch Cellular, formerly US West Cellular, can call
a similar help line at (800) 207-2057.
Not everyone has waited until the eleventh hour, however.
"We started this process six months ago and notified franchise owners
in over 20 states and five countries," says Patricia Scarci, director
of communications and international relations for Eugene-based Taco
"We asked them to begin using 541 effective Jan. 1," she says.
For the most part, the preparation has paid off. Long-term franchise owners and
regional suppliers are having the hardest time breaking the 503 habit, but
everyone else seems to be adjusting, Scarci says.
Symantec Corp., a computer software company, geared up for the new
area code soon after it was announced in November. The firm's Eugene
service center receives 15,000 to 20,000 calls a day, says Randy
Ryder, a networking specialist at the company.
Symantec officials estimated the company would spend $50,000 or
$60,000 reprogramming automated telephone messages, which refer
callers to other 503 numbers, and reprinting business supplies and
For months, the company's support lines have played recorded reminders
about the area code change, Ryder says. He also plans to update the
telephone number listed on the company's World Wide Web site on the
Internet, he says.
Despite numerous reminders, some clients will be confused, Ryder
"I expect we'll have some repercussions," he says. "There's not much
choice about it. There are too many customers out there and too many
manuals still out with the 503 phone number."