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October 26, 2005 12:03 AM

Broken: Long-distance error message

Mike Lukens asks:

Why is it that when making what I perceive to be a long distance call and input the 1 plus the area code, I get a recording back saying that I don't need to input those numbers. "The 1 and the area code are not needed for this call." If the computer is smart enough to know to send me that message, why then does it not just DROP those numbers instead of making me redial without them?

Conversely, if I make a call that might be local but is really long distance, I will get a message stating that I need to input the 1 and/or the area code. With the requirement that area codes always be used in many places, why doesn't the computer just plug in the area code you are calling from and finish the call? ... and automatically insert the 1 if needed. Don't make me redial a number when you already know what is or is not needed... just connect the call!


Because most people want to know ahead of time whether or not they are making a long-distance call!

BTW, didn't we already have exactly the same complaint a few weeks ago?

Posted by: Kenton Varda at October 26, 2005 12:50 AM

Well, people do want to know if the call is going to be long distance... so asking someone to input 1 if it's required is just sensible. However, I agree that asking to call back without dialing 1 is just stupid. It's perfectly reasonable for the computer to drop the 1 and, if logical, the area code as well, and just place the call. Nobody is going to complain about not being charged for a call that they thought would be long distance.

Posted by: Dan at October 26, 2005 02:30 AM

The "1" and area code don't necessarily indicate long distance. I happen to live in an area where five area codes are local, so it's easy to get into the habit of 1 & code. But my cell phone doesn't need the 1. So why can't landlines all go to just the ten diget code and skip the one for all but international calls?

Posted by: Miki at October 26, 2005 02:54 AM

My old cell phone used to ignore 1+areacode if it was a local call, so I could program all numbers into memory as 11-digits and be done with it. Somehow, moving to a new phone (but not a new provider) has kiboshed that, and now I get admonished and told to try again without the 1. I agree that 1+areacode should be ignored if not needed, but I also agree that long distance should not be automatically assumed, because that would incur fees, and I'd prefer to know that I'm being charged for the call.

Posted by: Jay911 at October 26, 2005 06:39 AM

Classic: System training the user instead of the user training the system.

But I can think of two rationales:

1] they want to train people to do it for themselves, because:

2] the actual switching process is slow and/or complicated enough that any savings in processing resources is significant when you're talking many millions of simultaneous calls.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at October 26, 2005 09:15 AM

Isn't this exactly the same as the oct. 4th post "Bellsouth errors in Miami "?

Posted by: Sean P at October 26, 2005 09:20 AM

How about this "The number you have dialled is a long distance call. If you still wish to place this call please dial 1 to continue, otherwise please hang up or place another call. Have a nice day." or something similar.

By the way I still can't get the "remember personal info" button to work. Also the new monthly archives link doesn't work.(yet?)

Posted by: Sean P at October 26, 2005 09:30 AM

This is an unfortunate legacy of the way the landline phone system works, and can't be readily solved at the "server end".

Broken, but, also not easily fixed.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at October 26, 2005 10:26 AM

It's a legacy of the Ma Bell breakup, when local and long-distance services were separated. Because you can buy them separately, they need to be routed separately. But yes, this is idiotic. We don't have the problem in NYC, where ALL numbers from a landline, even if it's just from one 212 number to another 212 number, need 11 digits. Which is also stupid, but stupid in a different way. Certainly there's no need for that initial 1.

Posted by: Felix Salmon at October 26, 2005 11:51 AM

The requirement to dial 10 digits for local calls comes from some bureaucrat's idea of `fairness' in a place that has more than one area code for the same territory (`overlay'). If you could dial 7 digits within the old area code, numbers in the new code would be at a disadvantage; see `harrison bergeron' for more.

Posted by: yuubyou at October 26, 2005 01:31 PM

Well, the initial "1" is just the country code. That means you're calling somewhere in the US. Obviously, the system should be smart enough to not care as long as you are calling from the US.

I figure if you're dialing the area code already, you should be able to dial "1" whether it's long distance or not.

Posted by: Andrew Bakke at October 26, 2005 01:47 PM

Yes, we had the same complaint a while back.

Yes, some people want to know if a number they are dialing is going to be "long distance" as in "this is going to cost extra" but no, it doesn't always cost extra, so yes, in those cases it's reasonable to program the computer to just put the darn call through.

Yes, we could just go to ten digits everywhere domestic but that would make a lot of people, who now dial seven digits most of the time, dial extra digits. That would be better for some but worse for others.

DaveC and yuubyou: Your logic is contrary to Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." (although I am intrigued by the Harrison Bergeron story).

Robby, yes it's a legacy issue but it CAN be easily fixed. It's just a matter of a phone company deciding to do so. However, now that we have regionsl Bells and cell phone providers, each one gets to make and implement their own decision: thus the inconsistency depending on which system one is on.

DaveC, switching is not a slow process anymore, except when a system has to switch (based on line clicks) the occasional rotary phone call. It would be faster/cheaper just to put in the logic to put a call through the first time, than to have the system process two calls.

Bottom line is, we have beat this to death, it's solvable but not solving it is due to inertia and willingness to provide marginal service on the phone companies' part.

Posted by: Pat at October 26, 2005 03:43 PM

The initial "1" in North American dialing is not the country code. You can demonstrate this by trying to substitute any other country code for the "1"; country codes in North American dialing follow "011", the international calling access code. (And "1" doesn't mean you're calling somewhere "in the US", either, it's North America-wide.)

It *is* the indicator that you're calling long-distance, though. I agree that that's one good reason to require it, to prevent billing surprises later.

More generally though I don't want the phone system guessing what I meant to dial, because if it does that, it's going to do that when other people dial too, and some of those misdialed calls are going to interrupt my dinner and sleep. It's the caller's job to dial the correct number and there's all sorts of technology he can apply at his end to make that easier if he wishes.

Posted by: rich at October 26, 2005 03:46 PM

There is another thing no one has mentioned. With the 7 digit phone numbers the first 3 are the local exchage. Now there are some local exchanges that are the same 3 digits as some other area code. So the 1 prefix would absolutely be required in this case so the phone switch knows if this is a local call or not. You also cannot say that since I dialed 10 digits it must be a long distance, you can punch in 50 digits if you want to, the extra ones are just ignored. Same here. After 7 valid digits the other 3 could be ignored.

Posted by: Steve at October 26, 2005 04:15 PM

I didn't make up the story about competitive impact; the FCC did.

104. . . . Moreover, to ensure

that small businesses do not suffer competitive disadvantages, we have mandated that state

commissions choosing to implement an all-services area code overlay must include: (i)

mandatory 10-digit dialing by all customers between and within area codes in the area

covered by the overlay; . . .[cite]

There are more references, but I don't have the patience to find the original reg with justification.

Steve: as long as the area codes local to each other aren't used as an exchange codes, there's no theoretical reason to prevent 7 or 10 digits from working for local calls, as a digit string starting with a local area code would then necessarily be 10 digits.

Posted by: yuubyou at October 26, 2005 05:27 PM

DEJA VU! I remeber seeing this post before!

...eerie, isn't it?

Posted by: Bob at October 26, 2005 06:07 PM

They are preserving backward compatibility with mechanical exchages. A mechanical exchange can't "drop the 1" because i has already dialed it and forgot it. Now, why not drop the inane backward compatibility? I have no idea, but I bet it would cost money.

Posted by: Miles Archer at October 26, 2005 06:20 PM

yuubyou : For 'local calls' requiring the area code, yes, you are correct. But my point was in general, there are many exchages and area codes with the same 3 digits. I have often been connected to some local number after forgetting to first dial the 1 when I really wanted a long distance call.

Posted by: Steve at October 26, 2005 08:13 PM

I think the phone companies must use Windows

Posted by: john russell at October 26, 2005 08:26 PM

What's broken is that landline phones are still popular. 99% of all cell phones always require the area code, and never require the 1, creating a consistent system. When you can get a cell phone with plenty of minutes, free long distance, etc. cheaper than you could get a landline, seperate long distance, and a cell phone with too few minutes, why would you choose the latter? I.E. I pay $50/mo for a phone with more minutes than I could ever use, if I were to get a landline I could probably get a cheaper cell plan ($30/mo) but the landline would still be more than the diference of $20/mo, even w/o LD.

Plus, all of your personal and professional contacts only need to know one number to contact you!

The only exception to this is if you have dial-up or DSL.

Posted by: Chris B at October 26, 2005 09:51 PM

You are dealing with 2 companies, the local phone company and the long distance company. They can not handle each other's calls. When you get the error message it is basically one company telling you to use the other company. They are not allowed to reroute the calls themselves.

Posted by: Dennis at October 27, 2005 10:35 AM

99% of all cell phones always require the area code, and never require the 1, creating a consistent system.

I can dial 7 digits when I'm at home. Nearly everywhere I've been, I can dial 10 digits for anything (so I usually enter numbers near home with area codes). However, in some parts of northern Virginia, I have to add an initial 1 or I get a `call cannot be completed as dialed' error. Elsewhere in Virginia it works fine with 10.

Posted by: yuubyou at October 27, 2005 10:36 AM

Chris B wrote,

  What's broken is that landline phones are still popular.

In many areas of the country, what's broken in cell phone service. I refuse to pay for service that frequently br_aks up _nd m_k_s it imp__sib_e to un_er_ta_d w__t _'m s_y_ng.

I'll keep my landline until I can rely on cellular service.

Posted by: garykarp at October 28, 2005 12:16 AM

From 234 area code, I can dial 1-123-555-5555 and it will say I do not need the 1 or 123 so I hang up and dial 555-5555 and it says I need the 1 or area code, so I hang up and finally dial 123-555-5555. This is only on certain numbers in the 123 area code. Other 123 numbers I must dial the 1-123 and you don't know what numbers they are until you call them. Broken.

Posted by: JAC at October 28, 2005 12:20 PM


Posted by: Sido at October 28, 2005 11:03 PM

"why doesn't the computer just plug in the area code you are calling from and finish the call?"

This wouldn't work in certain places. In Dallas, we have 3 area codes that are all local. If I was calling from a 972-... number to a 469-... number, I would get the wrong person on the other line.

Posted by: Bob at October 29, 2005 07:45 PM

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