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10-digit system can tell if call is local one

Following up on your recent article about the change to 10-digit dialing on Feb. 10, 2010, how will the system differentiate between a local call and a trunk call (free call versus chargeable call) in the future if all calls are now to be preceded by 541?

— Michael T., Medford

Fear not, Michael, the computer system at the central switching office has a list of local phone numbers in its memory bank that includes all of Jackson and Josephine counties. When the new 10-digit calling program starts, you just have to dial the 541 area code, then the phone number, according to the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

However, for toll calls outside of our calling area, an announcement on the line will alert you that you also have to dial a "1" to make a toll call. Until Feb. 10, local calls can still be made with just the usual seven digits, though if you want to practice, you can add the area code, as well.

You might well ask, "If the computer system is so sophisticated, why do you have to press the "1" in the first place?" One reason is the Federal Communications Commission requires pressing the "1" on toll calls nationwide to help alert customers that they are paying extra. Another problem is that if the system automatically added the "1" and the customer also pushed a "1," the switch might handle it as "11," which would be an international call.

Some cell-phone companies don't require a "1" for out-of-area calls, so theoretically it could be done, but that would require some changes at the FCC.