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Can New Hampshire lawmakers save 603 as the state's only area code?

CONCORD — By the end of 2027, New Hampshire's legendary area code 603 could reach its limits.

There are only a limited number of seven-number combinations that can be inserted after the number 603, the state's telephone area code. In 2023, the North American Numbering Plan Administrator warned that the maximum would be reached as early as 2027. That could mean New Hampshire will need to add a second area code in the near future.

To delay this, state lawmakers have introduced the aptly titled Senate Bill 603, which directs the New Hampshire Department of Energy and the Public Utilities Commission to do everything in their power to take action on phone conservation and reduce the number of to maximize available numbers.

“We lost the old man from the mountain almost 21 years ago. Our nation's first primary is under attack, even Daniel Webster has gone to Massachusetts to run for Senate. But we still have three numbers that are unique to the Granite State: 603,” New Hampshire Senate Deputy Chief of Staff Grant Bosley said at a public hearing before the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee in April. He introduced the bill on behalf of its lead sponsor, Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

“603 is more than an area code. It's an identity. We have songs and bumper stickers, political slogans, craft beers and T-shirts,” Bosley said. “603 is New Hampshire and New Hampshire is 603.”

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How might New Hampshire extend the life of 603?

Some ways to preserve the code are to reclaim numbers that are no longer in use and to require providers to return assigned blocks of numbers that are not in use. The bill includes a one-time cost of $100,000 to $300,000 to hire a consultant to identify actions New Hampshire could take.

Bradley introduced the bill in part at the request of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who issued an executive order last year creating the Don't Overload the Code initiative. To extend the life of the code, the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce were ordered to reclaim unused phone numbers.

The state is following the example of Maine, which also took action to maintain its code when it announced that 207 would reach its limit by 2025. By limiting robocalls and changing forecasting and block request practices, the state was able to extend the code's lifespan to 2032, according to WMTW's report.

New Hampshire and Maine are two of only eleven states with a single area code. But area codes could be eliminated across the country by 2051, according to Maine's Public Utilities Commission.

That's why New Hampshire's efforts won't prevent the need for a second primary one day, but they would push the date back later, Bosley said. The New Hampshire Department of Energy expressed optimism that it could extend the number 603, perhaps even until the federal government determines how it should be numbered statewide when it runs out.

But that inevitability is one reason Rep. Thomas Cormen, D-Lebanon, wrote in the committee's minority report that the bill was inconvenient for enactment.

“Whether we try to extend the life of the 603 area code or not, at some point in the next few years we will run out of phone numbers in the 603 area code,” Cormen wrote. “The bottom line is that this bill spends money just to procrastinate.”

The bill passed the Senate by voice vote in March. The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee recommended passing it by a slim 10-9 margin, and it was scheduled to go to the House for a full vote on Thursday.

Anna Harden

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