Trouble on the line
Some phone companies not recognizing NorthwesTel's 867

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 24/98) - Since the 867 area code was announced, Barry Taylor, owner of Arctic Safaris, has been updating business cards, brochures and magazine advertisements to reflect the new telephone number.

Recently, he discovered that not all of his old customers and perhaps many new customers can get through to him. Some phone systems in the south and around the world are not recognizing the 867 code.

"How do I know who's trying to get a hold of me all the time," asked Taylor.

Taylor, who receives most of his business from the U.S., complained three times to NorthwesTel's 811 hotline.

Taylor said NorthwesTel recognizes the problem but do not know how to deal with it. Nor does he.

"All my advertising is 867. Now if you see something in the newspaper or magazine you want to phone on it and the phone doesn't work, you hang up and forget about it. Right?

"I don't know how much it's happened to others. Not only in tourism but in everything else," he concluded.

Anne Grainger, director of public affairs for NorthwesTel, said a number of complaints have been received. "It's not a problem that's unique to NorthwesTel. It is a problem that became more apparent as new area code numbering configurations are introduced," she said.

BCTel and Bell in Toronto ran into similar problems when they introduced new area codes, Grainger explained.

"Area codes used to only have zero or one (as) middle digits but in the last few years telephone companies have been basically running out of numbers that have those combinations."

The North American Numbering Plan Association, the group that oversees and allocates area code numbers, was forced to introduce area codes that have many other digits in the middle besides a one or zero.

This has meant software changes for the telephone companies, said Grainger, adding that most North American telephone companies are now equipped to recognize digits other than zero or one.

NorthwesTel and the North American group are constantly sending messages out to customers and companies encouraging them to make the switch.

"It really is something NorthwesTel cannot control," said Grainger.

The only thing the company can do is invite customers who have run into problems to call Northwestel's 811 centre and report it.

"If we have their (the caller's) number, we can contact them or their local telephone company and find out where the change is needed."

After this Sunday, 403 will no longer be recognized by NorthwesTel and callers abroad attempting to phone NorthwesTel customers may be out of luck.

"Unfortunately we haven't really got an easy solution to that. It has been something we have been giving people almost two years notice of," said Grainger.

Making the recognition change is the cost of doing business, she advised.

"Things are changing with technology and it's not only NorthwesTel changing area codes," she said.

NorthwesTel calling card users travelling abroad may also have problems with the new 867 number.

"I had a customer from Dawson City who was in Spain and was trying to use his calling card with the 867 on it. It was fine if he dialled 403. They couldn't recognize 867," said Grainger.

There are some countries that are very slow to make the change. Spain may be one of them.

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