GREAT FALLS — Many Montanans take pride in living in the "406" - and soon Treasure State residents will be using that 406 more often. In December 2020, the Montana Public Service Commission announced that when you call a Montana phone number from a Montana phone number, you will soon have to include the 406 area code - regardless of whether the call is "local" or on the other side of the state.
The reason? So that the Federal Communications Commission can roll out the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Montana is one of 37 states and 83 area codes that will be impacted.
The PSC said in a news release that in July 2020, the Federal Communications Commission approved the designation of 988 as the new nationwide, three-digit phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The 988 hotline will provide a phone number for people in crisis to call so they can connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors.
Some area codes, including Montana's 406 area code, currently allow seven-digit dialing to complete a local phone call - no area code required. But because of the FCC decision, area codes that allow seven-digit dialing and already have an 988 prefix assigned as a working number for any area within the state must move to 10-digit dialing (406 area code plus the seven-digit phone number) for local calls by October 24, 2021.
The North American Numbering Plan Administrator has worked with telcom providers to develop a plan for affected area codes to transition to 10-digit dialing. Beginning April 24, 2021, customers should use 10-digit dialing to complete a telephone call. During this period, a call attempted with seven-digit dialing will still be completed; however, 10-digit dialing will be permissible and encouraged for practice.
Beginning October 24, 2021, the 10-digit dialing will become mandatory. Calls in Montana, including local calls, will not be completed unless the 406 area code is dialed with the seven-digit telephone number.
In addition to manual dialing on a telephone, all services that use automated dialing equipment will be impacted and will need to be programmed to include 10-digit dialing. This includes, but is not limited to: fire alarm systems, security systems, life-saving systems, medical monitoring devices, mobile/wireless contact lists, call forward settings, and all other automated dialing systems.
Existing numbers will not change (other than requiring the area code for dialing), and what is currently considered a local call will remain local regardless of the number of digits dialed. Three-digit dialing services, such as the 911 emergency number, will continue to work as a three-digit number with no need to dial an area code.
The PSC stated that the following will NOT change:
- Your telephone number, including current area code, will not change
- The price of a call, coverage area, or other rates and services will not change due to the dialing change
- What is a local call now will remain a local call regardless of the number of digits dialed
- You will continue to dial 1+ the area code + telephone number for all long-distance calls
- Callers will still be expected to dial a prefix (such as “9”) when dialing from a multi-line telephone system (i.e., in a hotel, office building, etc.) as required
- You can still dial just three digits to reach 711 (relay services) and 911 (emergency services)
- Any 211, 311, 411, 511, 611, or 811 services available in your community can still be reached by dialing their 3-digit codes
The 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be available beginning July 16, 2022. Prior to that date, customers may continue to use 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) to reach the Lifeline for suicide prevention and emergency mental health counseling.