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Exercise for your dialing finger

I received a letter from U.S. Cellular telling me that I will have to dial a 10-digit number, even for local calls beginning today (May 7). Why is that necessary?

— Erin N., Medford

U.S. Cellular, the nation's sixth-largest wireless carrier, has moved Oregon, California and Washington customers to 10-digit dialing.

Tom Jenkins, director of marketing for U.S. Cellular's West Region, said the change has nothing to do with access to prefixes or numbers.

"We have all we need and more," Jenkins said.

While telephone subscribers in metropolitan areas routinely must dial 10 digits to place local calls, wireless customers have been able to simply dial seven digits within their local calling areas here.

However, Jenkins said, cell phone users more often than not store a phone number in memory and forget it.

"This gives our customers access to mobility and the convenience of speed dial" when they travel, Jenkins said. "In our business environment and communities people are more mobile and going places. Because of (phone number) portability it allows faster and more consistent access by associating people with one (10-digit) number. You don't have to think about what state or area code you're in."

U.S. Cellular customers in the Rogue Valley 541 area code will be required to dial the area code and phone number (541-555-5555, for instance) when making a call from a wireless phone. The 10-digit dialing does not affect the cost of calls.

Although the letter to customers indicated customer demand had created a shortage of available numbers, Jenkins said there is no impending shortage.

"At some point in most states there will be 10-digit dialing," Jenkins said. "Instead of changing one state or market at a time, we want all of our customers to have the exact same experience. We're getting ahead of the curve. We've had very few questions (about this issue) coming into our customer care center."

Representatives of AT&T, Sprint/Nextel and Helio said there were no plans to switch their Southern Oregon customers to 10-digit dialing. Qwest spokesman Bob Gravely said his company's wireless users calling a U.S. Cellular phone will have to enter 10 digits as well.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We get so many questions we can't answer them all, but we'll try.