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FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America: Ask-A-Desi

This section will attempt to address some of the Frequently Asked Questions on Life in the US, Canada and North America that immigrants, visitors and others from different cultures attempt to address. If you have any additional inputs or wish  to see more topics addressed, mail us at

Area Code Listing, by Number: The cities listed with each area code are the major cities for that area code; this originated as the city in which the switch computer for that area code.

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Telephone Area Codes in North America

Telephone numbering plan: A telephone numbering plan is a plan for allocating telephone number ranges to countries, regions, areas and exchanges and to non-fixed telephone networks such as mobile phone networks. Dial plans should not be confused with numbering plans. A closed numbering plan, such as found in North America, features fixed length area codes and local numbers. An open numbering plan, as found in assorted countries that have not yet standardized, features variance in length of area code or local number, or both. The rules for dialing the numbers assigned by the numbering plan vary by defining which digits need not always be dialed (codes) and digits that must always be dialed (local number).

Why aren't numerically sequential area codes given to geographically adjacent areas?

The assignment of telephone area codes may seem random but actually it's pretty sensible. The North American Numbering Plan, of which the area codes are a part, was worked out in the late 1940s to ensure standardized numbering nationwide, helping to make direct-dial long distance possible. (Prior to that time, one had to go through an operator, that is 'trunk call').

On the rotary-dial phones then in use, dialing a nine (9) took a lot longer than dialing a one(1), which tied up expensive switching equipment. So AT&T assigned "low dial pull" numbers to the markets with the most telephones and thus presumably the highest number of incoming long-distance calls. New York got 212, Chicago 312, L.A 213, Detroit 313, Dallas 214 and so on. Strangely Washington D.C got 202 and Maryland 301 (Zero, remember, has the highest dial pull of all) may be this anomaly represented some "smoldering vendetta" against the Eastern Seaboard :-) Anyway.

The issue of dial pulls became academic with the introduction of touch-tone phones in the early 1960s. Since then the guiding principle behind the assignment of new area codes has been to make the new number as different as possible from the adjacent old ones in order to avoid confusion. That's why the split of New York's 212 produced 718, L.A's 213 begat 818 and Chicago's 312 was joined by 708 (which then was split again and we got 630 for Westmont and surrounding areas, 847 for Schaumburg etc). This non-consequent nature though looks illogical, is meaningful in a way.

One more thing. Originally the switching system required that the middle digit in each code be a one (1) or a zero (0). You can see it in San Jose,CA (408); San Diego,Ca (619); Philadelphia,PA (215); Boston,MA (617); Portland,OR (503) etc. But this meant there were only 152 numbers available. By the early 1990s, all but a handful of these had already been spoken for. To get around this limitation, phone companies around the country have been implementing "Dial-1" service, which requires you to dial 1 at the start of any direct-dial long distance call. This permits the use of additional digits in the middle position, giving us a total of 792 potential codes, which ought to hold us for a while.

Area Codes in 2000


Emergency Number 911; But Why?

This topic is about the Emergency Number 911. But no hurry, read at your leisure :-))

Have you ever wondered why 911 was chosen as the emergency code throughout the United States?

Prior to the 1960s, there was no universal number to call for emergency help. In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission met with AT&T to establish such a number, according to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). But why did they choose 911? Why not 422 or 111?

Dial-911 Dial-911

There are several reasons why 911 was chosen.

It's a short, easy to remember number, but more importantly, 911 was a unique number.

It had never been designated for an office code, area code or service code.

There were emergency numbers existing but not uniform. In one state 113 was for emergency and 411 was for directory assistance, in another state 411 was for emregency and so on. Also, numbers like 111, 211, 311, 411 etc were in use locally in each state, for different services though. Then there is bit of "kanjusi"ness or business-mindedness behind this. If you see the touch-tone dial pad on your phone, you will realize that the numeric key "1" doesn't have an alphabet. Also for 9, the alphabets are W, X and Y - less frequently used letters. So, telephone companies can allot "alphabet possible numbers" to such premium customers and corporates (for additional price) and retain no-alphabet keys to "free" services like this!!! Sounds "maha chaalu"? :-)

Existing N11 Code Assignments by FCC 
211 Assigned for community information and referral services.
311 Assigned nationwide for non-emergency police and other government services.
411 Unassigned, but used virtually nationwide by carriers for directory assistance.
511 Assigned for traffic and transportation information.
611 Unassigned, but used widely by carriers for customer care or repair service.
711 Assigned nationwide for access to Telecom Relay Services.
811 Unassigned, but used by many local exchange carriers for business office use.
911 Assigned nationwide for emergency services.

On February 16, 1968, Alabama Senator Rankin Fite made the first 911 call in the United States in Haleyville, Alabama. The Alabama Telephone Company carried the call. A week later, Nome, Alaska, implemented a 911 system. In 1973, the White House's Office of Telecommunication issued a national statement supporting the use of 911 and pushed for the establishment of a Federal Information Center to assist government agencies in implementing the system.

When we dial 9-1-1, the call is automatically forwarded to a Public-Safety-Answering-Point (PSAP), also called a 911 call center. Typically, the caller will tell the 911 operator about the emergency and his or her location. From 2001, most areas are also serviced by Enhanced 911, which allows the operator to trace the phone call and access the address that the call is coming from.

Dial-911 and Follow this...

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Trivia and Questions for Indians and Immigrants in America

General Trivia : Introduction //Dollars and Cents // Social Security Number // About Mail and USPS // Story of The Old Glory // Green Card– Why Not Green? // Telephone Area Codes // Convex Mirrors and Caution // Bankruptcy and Chapter 11 // Radio and TV Broadcasting // Consumerism: Trivia on Wal-Mart. // Retail Trivia // Gas Prices– What's 0.9 Cent? // Roads and Interstate Highways // Road Driving Trivia // Finance 101 // Daylight Saving Time // Trivia on Etiquette

FAQ Disclaimer: All information provided in these FAQ’s is deemed to be accurate by the author.  Due care has been exercised to ensure the veracity of this information and guidelines. However, there may be error (s) and omission (s) and all information is subject to change., and its affiliates do not assume any liability for the information provided herein. The reader is strongly recommended to confirm this information from official sources.

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