A coalition of Bell Atlantic's potential rivals has proposed its own plan for splitting Maryland into four area codes -- offering the Public Service Commission an alternative to a "bizarre" map that would have cut Baltimore off from Baltimore County.
The group's proposed solution provides the PSC with another choice besides the original map presented by a Bell Atlantic-led industry group and Bell Atlantic's own preferred solution -- an "overlay" that would create two new area codes within the borders of the current 301 and 410. That solution would require callers to dial 10 digits for all local calls.
But Bell Atlantic counterattacked with its own filing, contending the coalition's plan would force 1.4 million customers to change their area codes just five years after the state's first split.
Maryland is expected to run out of telephone numbers with the 301 and 410 prefixes sometime in late 1997. Like many other states, Maryland has seen its pool of phone numbers dwindle with the explosive growth in the use of fax machines, computer modems, cellular phones and other electronic devices.
The new map was submitted by a coalition including AT&T; Corp., MFS Communications Corp., Teleport Communications Group and the state cable television association, and was supported by the state Office of the People's Counsel. The PSC staff said it was an improvement on the original map but restated its preference for an overlay.
Rick Cimerman, director of state telecommunications policy for the National Cable Television Association, said the new map was drawn to avoid the most controversial aspects of the original split proposal, which he labeled "bizarre."
The new plan would leave Baltimore and Baltimore County in the same area code but split the city off from Anne Arundel and Howard counties. The new plan, unlike the original, would also leave Montgomery County largely intact within one area code.
But as bizarre as the earlier map appeared, the new one can match it for strangeness. One area code -- serving Carroll, Howard and Prince George's counties -- is a narrow strip running from the Pennsylvania border to the tip of Southern Maryland.
The original map was drawn up at an industry meeting in June with the primary objective of extending as long as possible the time before additional area codes would be needed, Mr. Cimerman said. That plan would stave off another split for an estimated 10 years, he said. An overlay plan would be good for an estimated 11 years.
"All the people at that meeting were like engineering types," he said, adding that political and economic considerations were largely excluded.
Mr. Cimerman, a former director of the PSC's communications staff, said the new map involves a trade-off: It would only be good for seven years, but it would pay greater respect to traditional regional and political boundaries and preserve some seven-digit dialing.
The coalition's filing also disputed a central premise of the argument for an overlay -- that 10-digit dialing for local calls is inevitable. While allowing that 10-digit dialing within regions will be necessary for some calls -- Baltimore to Columbia, for instance -- the coalition said current growth rates do not justify 10-digit dialing for local calls on the Eastern Shore or in Western Maryland.
While the filing attacked Bell Atlantic's preferred solution on many fronts, the main reason its potential competitors in local calling business oppose an overlay is that they fear it gives the incumbent carrier advantages because it controls the lion's share of familiar numbers.
Bell Atlantic said in its filing Monday that it has reserved large blocks of 301 and 410 numbers for its potential competitors, eliminating any possible advantage.
The telephone company argued that the new map did no better than the old map in keeping "communities of interest" within the same area code.
Bell noted that the Baltimore exchange would be split among three area codes and that Montgomery and Prince George's counties would be in different area codes.