OMAHA, Nebraska — Nebraska's new 531 area code will soon be assigned to new phone lines in the eastern third of the state.
Regulators say the new area code is needed because phone companies are close to running out of numbers in the existing 402 area code, due to an increase in demand for phone lines and a rise in the number of local phone service providers.
"It's possible to see 531 numbers anytime now," said Cullen Robbins, who is a telecom analyst with the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
State and federal regulators began planning for the new area code roughly a decade ago. Earlier this year, Public Service Commission officials predicted the change could still be at least three years away.
Last year, only six prefixes in the 402 area code were used and 26 prefixes remained available in February.
But Robbins said Monday that more than a dozen of the last 402 prefixes were assigned this spring after a phone company requested more numbers so it could offer new services.
There are currently 10 prefixes left in the 402 area code, which was established in 1947 and covers roughly the eastern third of Nebraska and a northern tier of counties. The rest of the state uses the 308 area code.
The new 531 area code will be overlaid on top of the 402 area, so 402 customers won't be forced to switch phone numbers. All calls in the area will require the area code plus the seven-digit telephone number.
Eastern Nebraskans began 10-digit dialing in February 2011 to prepare for phasing in the new area code, so they've had practice with the system.
Robbins said the biggest adjustment now may be getting used to the fact that phones numbers that start with 531 are coming from within Nebraska.
Nebraska Public Service Commission: http://www.psc.state.ne.us
North American Numbering Plan Administration: http://www.nanpa.com