GRAND RAPIDS — With the second, and possibly final, public hearing on adding an overlay to the 616 area code taking place next week in Kalamazoo, a committee of the Grand Valley Metro Council recently added its opposition to that option.
“It seems to me that this is an issue that we should be concerned about,” said Kentwood Mayor Bill Hardiman, chairman of the metropolitan planning organization’s legislative committee.
Hardiman made his comment after the committee heard from Rusty Merchant, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce vice president of public policy and government affairs. The chamber has called the overlay cumbersome, costly and confusing, and prefers having the 616 area split instead of overlayed.
The committee agreed to inform all 31 Metro Council member communities of the proposed action, labeling it a very serious issue, and to urge the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the telecommunications industry, to take action that would avoid an overlay for the region.
Committee members also agreed to meet with the council’s executive committee on Thursday, an effort to get that group’s backing and get the issue before the full board.
“It seems to be moving awfully fast,” said Hardiman. “I’m in support of what Rusty and the chamber is doing.”
“At a minimum, we need to try to slow this train down,” said Tom O’Malley of Coopersville.
Adding an overlay to the area would mean that new numbers would be assigned an area code different from 616. Then phones on the same block or in the same building could realistically have different area codes. The overlay would also introduce 10-digit dialing for all calls, local or long distance. The chamber claims that an overlay would be expensive for business owners because they would either have to change or upgrade their phone systems.
In contrast, the chamber feels that splitting the 616 area into two codes is a better remedy to the numbers crunch than the overlay. A split would keep seven-digit dialing for local calls and phone systems wouldn’t need to be changed, making it less costly for businesses to adapt to a new area code, like Muskegon did last year, than an overlay.
“We think both are bad. But the overlay is worse,” said Merchant. “What we really need is true reform.”