Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The era of knowing someone is from San Antonio based solely on the “210” at the start of a phone number is drawing to a close. San Antonio is outgrowing its singular 210 area code and will have to add a second code, 726, later this year.
The North American Numbering Plan Administration, which oversees national use of area codes, predicts that 210 numbers will be exhausted by early 2018.
Area code 726 will be an overlay code for the region currently serviced by 210, including the majority of Bexar County and parts of Atascosa, Comal, Guadalupe, Medina, and Wilson counties. An overlay area code means that 210 numbers will not change, but 726 numbers will be available to the same area.
The biggest immediate consequence is that San Antonio will cease to be the largest U.S. city in which seven digit dialing is possible, meaning that the old way of dialing local calls without an area code will no longer work.
“Right now we are in what is called a permissive period where you can use either a seven or 10 digit phone number in the 210 area,” said Terry Hadley, communications director for the Public Utilities Commission of Texas, which oversees area codes in addition to all electric, telecommunication, water, and sewer utilities for the State.
The six-month permissive period will end on Sept. 23, meaning that all local calls will require 10 digits, the three-digit area code and a seven-digit phone number. Long distance calls will continue to require 1 followed by 10 digits.
The activation date for the new 726 area code will be Oct. 23.
“That’s when, potentially, numbers can be issued with the 726,” said Hadley. “But if it’s like our past experience, there should be 210 numbers still available.”
Although the NANPA predicted all 210 numbers to be used by early 2018, Hadley says that 210 numbers can become available if phone contracts end or are canceled, and that phone customers can, depending on availability, request either a 210 or 726 number.
The 210 area code has been in place for San Antonio since 1992 and has become part of San Antonio’s identity for some.
“210 is really a brand for San Antonio,” said local resident Sarah Esserlieu. “There are a couple companies that reference 210 to show that they’re local companies, and I don’t know how that will affect branding.”
“Five or 10 years from now, will  be almost like a heritage number?” she questioned, suggesting the older area code could create a sense of pride similar to regional pride for area codes in some cities.
Do210, a guide of things to do in San Antonio, is one such company whose brand is linked to the 210 area code.
“I think the additional area code is something Do210 should consider moving forward regarding branding, but I also feel that the 210 area code has become such a part of the San Antonio identity that it will take some time for the addition of a new area code to change that,” said Daniel Rosen, general manager at Do210, in an email to the Rivard Report on Tuesday. “It is the primary area code and the one synonymous with the culture/identity of San Antonio.”
This change is not inherently negative, Esserlieu said.
“I think it’s a great marker, too,” she said. “We have so many people. We have to change things.”
Between July 2015 and July 2016, San Antonio was the fastest-growing city in Texas and the third-fastest growing city in the U.S. Projections by SA Tomorrow place San Antonio’s population close to 3 million by 2040, creating a need for comprehensive city planning to make way for growth.
“We have to modernize, and get a new area code,” Esserlieu said.