JEFFERSON CITY - Western Missourians shouldn't feel too smug about eastern and central Missouri's telephone area code hassles. Because soon the western part of the state will be facing the same problems with splitting up the familiar 816 area code.
This summer, the state's utility-regulating Public Service Commission approved plans to create a new area code - 573 - for central and eastern Missouri.
Thanks to the information boom, central and eastern Missouri's 314 area code will be exhausted by 1996.
Now, the PSC has begun work on a similar plan for western Missouri.
In two years, the Kansas City's and northern Missouri's 816 area code will be on overload too, said Ken McClure, vice chairman of the PSC.
"It's because of a population growth, more houses, more telephones, more technology," said Ben Childers, the Commission's telecommunications economist. "Now there are a couple of phone lines in the house, plus lines for a fax and computer."
The solution for central Missouri is a new area code, 573, by Jan. 1, 1996. The St. Louis metropolitan area will keep 314.
"The cost to the customers to switch would be less in outset Missouri than in St. Louis," McClure said.
For the next year, the Commission will discuss solutions to the 816 exhaustion problem, and then it will hold public hearings. Childers said the Commission should have a solution for the 816 region by the Spring of 1997.
Missouri's three area codes were put into place in 1947. The third area code, 417, encompasses southwest Missouri and has many years left before exhaustion, Childers said.
The Commission has discussed giving cellular telephone users in the 314 area a separate area code rather than changing non-cellular numbers, McClure said.
But he said the PSC postponed action on that idea because the Federal Communications Commission ruled that a similar idea in Illinois was discriminatory.
However, McClure said the Commission is looking at a way to modify the idea so the the FCC would approve it for the 816 region.