HELENA – Montana will remain the “406” for a while longer, thanks in part to the state Public Service Commission’s efforts to ensure phone numbers are allocated more efficiently across the state.
On Monday, Federal Communications Commission officials told the PSC they expect the state’s single area code to last until at least 2031.
406 has been Montana’s only area code since the codes were first created in 1947. But the growing population and the increase in cellphone subscriptions will eventually require the state to adopt a second three-digit code.
Today, there are about 1 million cell phone subscribers in Montana and 400,000 landline connections.
By 2013, a report found the state was likely to run out of available 406 numbers by 2019. That year, the PSC implemented a policy called “mandatory number-pooling.” It required telephone companies to make numbers they are not using available, and it limited the number of additional phone numbers that could be assigned to new providers or providers asking for more numbers.
In a press release, Public Service Commissioner Bob Lake credited the PSC’s actions with extending the life of the 406 code.
“Basically, it ensures that carriers are not sitting on a bunch of unused numbers, which could hasten the area code exhaustion date,” he said.
PSC leaders said the 406 area code has become a piece of Montana’s heritage.
“It’s become such an integral part of our state’s identity that some businesses have built their entire brand around the novelty of our single area code,” said Lake.
“We take a lot of pride in being known as Big Sky Country, and we take a lot of pride in the fact that an awful lot of folks from around the country know that, if you’re talking 406, you’re talking Montana,” said PSC Chairman Brad Johnson.
The FCC requires planning for a new area code to start three years before a code is predicted to be used up. That could be 2028 in Montana’s case. But Johnson said the PSC will continue to look for policy changes and technological upgrades that could keep the state exclusively under 406 for even longer.
Montana is one of 11 states that still have just one area code, along with Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.