New Area Code Worries

Brace yourself — Houston's getting a new area code: It's Seinfeld come to life

Brace yourself — Houston's getting a new area code: It's like Seinfeld

rotary phone dial
Houstonians will be able to get 346 area code numbers starting July 1, 2014. Photo by Leo Reynolds/Flickr
Houston area codes new 346 map
Area code 346 region in blue Public Utility Commission of Texas
rotary phone dial
Houston area codes new 346 map

To those of you still getting used to dialing 8-3-2, brace yourselves . . . Houston is getting a new area code.

The Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) announced Thursday afternoon that, due to the region's continual boom in population, Bayou City residents will receive area code 346 to help with an ever-growing demand for phone numbers. The new code will debut on July 1, 2014. 

Unlike area-code changes decades ago that actually changed one's existing phone number, 346 will be added to the mix of 713, 281 and 832. The area code will provide additional numbers for Harris, Fort Bend, Waller, Austin, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Liberty, Chambers, Galveston and Brazoria Counties. (See map above.)

The Houston area  will receive area code 346 in July 2014.

The North American Number Planning Administration — the organization that issues area codes in the United States and Canada — predicts that Houston will run out of numbers by September 2014. The region's last area code, 832, was added in 1999.

"Houstonians have had to dial 10-digit numbers for a long time, so we don't expect it won't take long for people to get acclimated," says PUC spokesperson Terry Hadley, adding that local phone providers will launch an education campaign in August.

The numbers game: A history

The area code system was unveiled by AT&T and Bell in the 1947 to keep up with postwar telecommunication needs.

More than 86 three-digit codes were assigned throughout the U.S. and Canada based on a simple set of rules. States and provinces with only one area code had a 0 for the middle number (Connecticut was 203, for example). Those requiring more than one code had a 1 at the center (thus, 817 for Illinois).

The most populous areas were given the area codes that needed the least amount of time for dialing on a rotary telephone — 212 for New York, 312 for Chicago . . .  and 915 for rural west Texas. With the advent of touch-tone phones in the early 1960s, the original logic was abandoned.

For further information on the emotional effects of area code changes, see Seinfeld episode #919 "The Maid."