‘New number, who dis?’ 771 area code unveiled for DC

The area code 202 is synonymous with D.C. — it’s been the District’s sole area code for more than 70 years. But come 2022, when new phone numbers are forecast to run out, there’ll be a new three-digit code in town.

The D.C. Public Service Commission announced Tuesday that the District’s new area code will be 771.

The number was chosen by the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, an entity overseen by the Federal Communications Commission that assigns area codes across North America, including U.S. and Canada.

“The 202 area code has been part of D.C. culture for over 50 years, and it is not going away,” said Chairman Willie L. Phillips in a statement. “However, we stand ready to assist in a smooth transition to the added 771 area code.”

The new 771 area code will be phased in over the next year or so.

The public service commission said new 202 phone numbers are forecast to run out sometime during the third quarter of 2022.

The new code will overlay the entire geographic area of the current 202 area code, meaning all new phone numbers that go into service after the 202 numbers are depleted will have the new area code.

If you already have a phone number with a 202 area code, don’t worry — your number won’t change. However, once the new 771 area code goes live, customers making landline or wireless phone calls within the District will be required to dial 10 digits — including the area code. Currently, because there’s only the single 202 area code, people only need to dial a seven-digit phone number.

Overall, the Public Service Commission is proposing a 13-month plan to implement the new area code. The first six months will be spent preparing phone networks for the change. The commission will also spend six months on a customer-education plan, letting them know that 10-digit dialing will become mandatory and helping them make the transition.

After that point, 10-digit dialing will be required and all new phone numbers will be given the new area code.

If you want to join the group working on the consumer education program, you can email the public service commission’s secretary explaining your interest in joining the group.

So why 771?

The D.C. Public Service Commission did not have a say in the new area code. The decision was up to the North American numbering organization, which reserved those digits 10 years ago when 202 numbers were first forecast to eventually run out.

“771 doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t spell anything … this area code was chosen a long time ago,” said Beth Sprague, the director of the North American Numbering Plan Administrator. “There’s no hidden meaning.”

The group considers a few factors, such as geographical boundaries and nearby area codes. The group avoids picking area codes that are too similar to existing nearby ones to limit customer confusion, Sprague said.

“It’s not an exact science, but there is sort of a process that we go through,” Sprague said. Aside from the newly minted 771, there are about 240 other possible area codes the numbering organization has at its disposal that haven’t yet been assigned.

In case you’re curious: The new area code is sandwiched between 770, which was created in 1995 to cover the Atlanta suburbs, and 772, which was created in 2002 to cover Florida’s eastern Treasure Coast.

When the new area code was still in the planning phase, some suggested a new area code with some D.C.-specific references. “Clearly, DC’s new area code should be ‘451’ because it will be ‘for’ the 51st state,” the account for the D.C. Council tweeted in September.

During a public hearing earlier this month, Phillips, the chairman of the public service commission, said an area code “with a connection to the people would be great.” He added: “I think that there’s a lot of pride in the District of Columbia built up around our area code. You can see people wearing T-shirts that just say 202, and you know they represent the District of Columbia.”

But it wasn’t meant to be.

“We have a lot of procedures and FCC rules and numbering guidelines,” Sprague said. “There’s just no process for asking for vanity type area code.”

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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