Originally created 09/22/99

Georgia counties to switch area codes



Several rural counties south of metro Augusta will have to get used to new area codes.

The Public Service Commission voted Tuesday to shrink the 912 area code, which now serves most of middle and south Georgia, to cover just Savannah and southeast Georgia.

Parts of Burke, Jefferson and Emanuel counties and all of Jenkins and Johnson counties will be shifting to area code 478, the same code that Macon and much of south-central Georgia will be using.

Albany and areas further southwest will use the new area code 229. Savannah will remain in the 912 area code.

Customers will start receiving notification of the change next month and may begin using the new area codes in August. For one year after that, they will have the option of using the new area code or the present one.

The change becomes final Aug. 1, 2001.

The 4-1 decision followed a series of public hearings by the PSC as it searched for ways to keep the 912 area code from running out of telephone number combinations.

Gene Dunwoody, chairman of the Macon Economic Development Commission, said the change will cause some expense to those in middle Georgia who will need to reprint company letterhead, business cards and brochures.

But having almost two years to make the change won't be so bad, he said.

Mr. Dunwoody said he'd rather have a new area code than be required to "dial 10 digits just to call next door."

That would have been the case under an alternate plan that was offered by the commission staff but not considered by the board. Under that plan, the 912 area would not have been divided.

Instead, existing customers would have kept the 912 area code and new customers would have been given a different one. But to call anywhere within the dialing area, including local calls, customers would have been required to dial all 10 digits of the telephone number.

Commissioner Bobby Baker, the lone dissenter in Tuesday's vote, favored that plan.

Word that Savannah would remain in the 912 area code was good news for Bill Hubbard, chief executive officer of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We've had a huge increase in international tourism, and there's the new convention center we've been doing a lot of marketing for. We've got a lot of international customers throughout the world. It's confusing enough with international dialing, so keeping 912 was critical for us," he said.

In Albany, Mayor Tommy Coleman said his constituents won't like having to switch to a new area code.

"I hope nobody bought two years' worth of stationery," he said. But he added, "It's just a number. Sooner or later, we'll get used to it and it will become second nature."

North Georgia already has been split into four area codes: 404, 770 and 678 for the metro Atlanta area and 706 for the rest of the region.

How counties currently in the 912 area code will be affected by Tuesday's Public Service Commission decision:

Counties remaining in 912:
Echols (part), Clinch (part), Atkinson, Coffee, Jeff Davis, Telfair (part), Wheeler (part), Laurens (part), Emanuel (part), Candler, Bulloch, Screven, Montgomery, Toombs, Evans, Effingham, Chatham, Tattnall, Long, Liberty, Bryan, Appling, Bacon, Ware, Pierce, Wayne, McIntosh, Glynn, Camden, Brantley, Charlton

Counties shifting to area code 229:
Stewart, Quitman, Marion, Schley, Dooly (part), Pulaski (part), Dodge (part), Telfair (part), Wheeler (part), Ben Hill, Irwin, Wilcox, Turner, Crisp, Sumter, Lee, Terrell, Randolph, Clay, Calhoun, Dougherty, Worth, Tift, Berrien, Lanier, Cook, Colquitt, Brooks, Lowndes, Echols (part), Thomas, Grady, Decatur, Seminole, Early, Miller, Baker, Mitchell

Counties shifting to area code 478:
Monroe, Crawford, Bibb, Baldwin, Dooly (part), Pulaski (part), Dodge (part), Macon, Twiggs, Laurens (part), Jefferson (part), Peach, Taylor, Putnam (part), Wilkinson, Bleckley, Houston, Burke (part), Jenkins, Johnson, Emanuel (part)

Source: Georgia Public Service Commission