Because Montana’s 406 area code covers the entire state, it has become synonymous with the citizenry, marketing everything from clothing lines to bands to beer.
But because of population increases and a corresponding increase in phone numbers, Montana was projected to run out of 406 numbers by 2019. A second area code would then be required.
Now the Montana Public Service Commission has stepped in to take action to preserve the single code until 2022.
The Federal Communications Commission announced that the PSC has extended the projected date when all 406 numbers will be used by requiring mandatory "number pooling" by phone service providers.
The PSC actually required number pooling back in 2013, but the FCC just got around to revising its projected exhaustion date for 406.
Number pooling is a method by which geographical areas are assigned blocks of numbers instead of telecommunications carriers being allocated blocks of 10,000 numbers.
That means there are fewer wasted numbers, because numbers can be separately assigned to carriers that are competing with each other in a certain market. Essentially, numbers that aren’t used in less-populated areas of the state can be claimed in larger urban areas.
The FCC requires planning for a new area code to begin three years in advance of the forecast exhaustion date, so Montana now has a lot more breathing room.
That will mean a lot to places like Salon 406 in Missoula, the 406 Bar and Grille in Kalispell and The 406 Brewing Company in Bozeman.
Jinny Hunter, owner of Salon 406 on Southwest Higgins Avenue in Missoula, said her business brand depends on the state having a single area code.
“It would be a big deal,” she said, when asked if an additional area code would affect her business. “It would really impact a lot of businesses because it’s so recognizable. To do away with that would be a shame.”
Montana is one of 12 remaining states with a single area code. The others are Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.
“We are very pleased to find out that our actions have kept the whole state of Montana ‘the 406’ for a while longer, and we are looking for any way possible to extend the exhaustion deadline out even further,” said PSC Commissioner Roger Koopman, a Republican from Bozeman. “It’s likely that the state will eventually have to adopt an additional three-digit area code to accommodate growth, but we hope to push that off for as long as possible, as we know our single area code is a matter of pride for many Montanans.”