Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Future of N11 Service Codes ??

In the pre-divestiture days, the (monopoly) telephone company, AT&T, was mostly totally in charge of how N11 codes would be used, although there were some local exceptions. And as has been discussed, 11X codes as used in SXS areas until N11 codes (as used in Panel/#1XB areas) became the "standard" in ALL areas including SXS by the 1960s/70s, 11X codes were still used exceptionally in several non-Bell places (Centel in Tallahassee FL well into the 1970s, Lincoln NE Tel & Tel well into the 1980s, GTE's British Columbia Tel also well into the 1980s).

In the 1920s thru 1960s/70s period, initially in Panel (and later #1XB) urban/metro areas, the "generic" assignment of N11 codes was of the four "even number" ones as follows:

211 Long Distance Operator
411 Information (Directory)
611 Repair Service
811 Business Office

Not all traditionally SXS areas adopted all four of these when N11 codes replaced 11X codes. Virtually everywhere adopted 411 for Information (Directory Assistance). 211 for the LD Operator began to be phased out, since by the 1960s/70s, more and more places had either combined local/toll cord-boards, or else TSP/TSPS/TOPS became the norm, with combined local/toll assistance possible from the same platform. Of course, today, with divestiture, LATAs, and differences between local vs. toll providers, both the US and Canada (even though Canada doesn't have LATAs per-se, one can choose a local provider and a toll provider, each being different), there is 0(#) for the local operator which includes intra-LATA assistance (even if you chose someone other than the LSP for your intra-LATA PIC), and 00 for your inter-LATA PIC operator. (101-XXXX+ code prefixes can be used if you care to use an entirely different operator altogether, or you could use 1-8yy-nxx-xxxx toll-free dialups).

Also, not everywhere adopted 611 for Repair, and even less places ever did adopt 811 for Business Office.

In New Orleans, we dialed seven-digit "POTS-like" numbers starting in the 1960s for Repair and Business Office. Local "oddball" type were freuently used for access though, but it did fit a seven-digit NNX-xxxx format.

"Unassigned" N11 codes in particular places have long been used for telco test purposes (ringback, ANAC, etc).

But for the LONGEST, the "generic intent for universal use" (even though this was never actually realized everywhere in the NANP) was for the above assignments of 211, 411, 611, 811 -- the four "even-number" N11 codes, and note that they were all TELCO provided functions for their customers.

In the late 1960s, the first "government/community/public interest" N11 code began to appear, which has become virtually universal in use, but the intent is for its universal implementation throughout the US/Canada, regardless of what any other telcos might be using it for if they use it for telco test functions, and this is 911 Emergencies.

Nothing much really changed w/r/t N11 codes, even with 1984 divestiture, until the early 1990s. Some LECs (BellSouth specifically, but I think one or two others) began to offer "locally unused" N11 codes on a first-come or maybe "auction" basis (with the nod of respective state regulatory agencies) to non-telco entities, as three-digit PAY-PAY-PAY per call sex/dating/etc. or "info" lines. Or some private ambulance companies bid for N11 codes in some places.

The FCC seemed to become concerned about this non-standard, non-telco, non-public use of N11 codes in this matter, and in a competitive environment (and growingly competitive with the new CLECs and more WSPs coming on the scene), they were concerned that non-standard use would be confusing to a travelling public. The FCC also preferred nationwide uses of N11 codes, and more of them not for ILEC telco functions but rather for carrier-neutral functions or for government/community/public-interest functions.

There was a move in the US and Canada as far back as the early 1990s for 711 to be used for Telecom Relay Services for the Hearing/Speech Impaired. The United Way was "hinting" at an N11 code for some time. The blind advocacy groups were clammoring for an N11 code for audiotext services (ie., newspapers read over the phone), etc.

While the FCC didn't "prohibit" non-telco/non-standard use of N11 codes in the manner that BellSouth was introducing, there was a stipulation that if the FCC introduced a more universal/nationwide function for that code, and if there was a local agency that wanted to implement that code, the "current" info/dating/etc. entitity would be forced off the code, but with something like six-months notice.

In the late 1990s, there was a move by various state/local governments in the US for a special 3-digit "non-emergency" access number to the police (something other than 911) or local government services in general. The federal government/FCC ultimately decided upon 311.

Also in the late 1990s, the United Way and related NGOs petitioned for 211 as an access code.

Since 2000, both 211 for the United Way of Canada, and 311 for non-emergency access to local government services, have also been approved by the CRTC.

In the US, the FCC has approved 511 for ultimate (local) implementation for travel/traffic/transit/road-condition services.

And now, the FCC has approved 811 for a "Call before you dig" nationwide type number.

Very few places in the US and Canada have been using 811 for Telco Business Office, and fewer telcos in the US (and Canada) were using 611 for Telco Business Office. In a competitive local telco environment, 611 and 811 are also becoming more and more "unworkable". Telcos are using standard toll-free ten-digit 8yy-nxx-xxxx numbers for repair and business office.

Some cellcos still use 611+SEND or *611+SEND for reaching customer service, or for certain "romaing" or "tech support" purposes. But if the cellco industry still feels the need for a universal "short-code", maybe the US/Canada cellco industry and industry support groups should come up with a joint resolution to request a *XX+SEND type code from NANPA, that
isn't an N11 code, something that would not conflict with other landline and/or wireless *XX codes, and somthing that could be for the exclusive use of the wireless industry, maybe something in the *2XX range.

According to NANPA's website, there are alrady two wireless "only" *XX(X) Vertical Service Codes, and both of them are of the *2XX format.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I think that there is going to be some kind of "public/community/government" function that the FCC is going to mandate 611 for universal assignment.

And even though Canada hasn't copied the US intent of 511 for Travel/Traffic info, or 811 for "Call before you dig", I would expect that the CRTC and other Canadian agencies to adopt these assignment for use north of the border within the next few years. And if the FCC assigns 611 for some "public interest" (non-telco) function, I also expect that Canada will copy this as well.

Note that the use of N11 codes has migrated away from (monopoly) telco provided services, over to "universal" (or nearly so) community/government/public interest uses, which work fine in a carrier neutral sense in a highly comeptitive (local) telco environment.

So, if 611 is the next traditional "telco" N11 code to "bite the dust" and become a universally intended "public interest" non-telco code, this would leave ONLY 411 as a traditional telco N11 code.

However, the FCC in the US has been looking for some kind of competitive Directory Assistance for some years now. There really isn't too much progress on it, other than some NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) or Notice of Inquiry documents... some of the methods of providing public access to competitive directory services would have the customer dial specially assigned 101-XXXX codes, not as a "prefix" but as a stand-alone dialing code (or so it seems). The FCC has already directed Neuster-NANPA to "set-aside" any (unassigned) fg.D "CIC" codes of the
101-411X and 101-X411 format for such proposed competitive directory assistance purposes.

However, I don't know if the following has been proposed, but I think this could be much more "do-able" considering public education and loading into switch translations, and it could allow a theoretical 10,000 possible assignments to competitive DA entities:

Since 411 has been one of the most STABLE of the N11 codes, far more universally implemented (after 11X codes in SXS areas began to be changed to N11 codes) -- in the 1970s, the Bell System was pondering the elimination of 611 and 811 for Telco Repair and Telco B.O. (respetively) where those codes had been used as such, since different types of customers (coin vs noncoin, business vs. resi, small business vs large business, etc), needed to reach SPECIFIC B.O. or Repair reps, and instead of 611 and 811, there would be a range of dedicated 7/10 digit telephone numbers for such diversified B.O. and Repair -- in the 1970s and 1980s editions of Notes on Distance Dialing or Notes on the Network, or Notes on the BOC Intra-LATA Networks, etc. (published by AT&T, later by Bellcore), it was always suggested that both 411 and 911 would remain as such, but that 611 and 811 could possibly disappear. 211 for LD
Operator was already mostly obsolete by then....

Maybe the FCC could eliminate 411 as a 3-digit code and instead have 411 as a special c.o.code of a universal 7-digit number "set", as 411-xxxx, sort of like how 950-xxxx numbers are assigned.

The -xxxx line-number part of the 411-xxxx number would also be "mirrored" to the -xxxx of 950-xxxx numbers, being the "Carrier Code", or maybe the "OCN". Not all potentially ten-thousand 411-xxxx numbers would be in use in all places throughout the US and Canada, since if Latelco in southeast Louisiana is providing D.A. on a 411-xxxx number, outside of their small territory nobody else would need to dial THEIR 411-xxxx. But the assignemt would be exclusive.

This is something similar to what has happened in the UK. The UK has traditionally used three-digit codes beginning with '1' (1XX) for "special functions" provided by telco and by public interest entities.

Today, Oftel/Ofcom is assigning such codes for new uses as four digit 1XXX codes if possible, though. I don't remember exactly what the 1XX code for local Directory Enquiries in the UK was when BT was the monopoly (GPO, Post Office Telecom, etc), but today, there is access to competitive D.E. using six-digit codes of the form 118-XXX throughout the UK. Ofcom (formerly Oftel) is the assignment body for these 118-XXX customer-dial codes.

SO, that could be extended to the US/Canada, where NANPA would assign specific 411-xxxx codes for competitive Directory.

However, ALL OTHER N11 codes would be changed or assigned to non-telco, but non-competitive, public-interest type codes all as described above (of course such a non-telco community/gov't/public assignment on 611 hasn't been determined as of yet, but I expect one in the next few years). And these uses would all be "universal" throughout both the US and Canada, including 511, 811, and any future such (TBD) use on 611.

Mark J. Cuccia
mcuccia (at) tulane (dot) edu
New Orleans LA CSA
(From the Local Calling Guide)