Saturday, July 22, 2000

3-digit phone codes set aside

By Kalpana Srinivasan
The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — Federal regulators set aside new three-digit telephone numbers Friday: 511 for local traffic information and 211 for referrals to nonprofit groups serving the needy. They also ordered phone companies to adopt a code to reach special operators who help the deaf make calls.

        Under the Federal Communications Commission's plan, modeled after the 911 emergency number, drivers may someday be able to call one easy-to-remember number to find out about congestion or roadwork in whatever city they're passing through. Families needing shelter, food or crisis counseling could find assistance through a single number.

  The list of abbreviated dialing codes approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
  • 211: Assigned for community information and referrals.
  • 311: Assigned for nationwide non-emergency police and government agencies.
  • 411: Unassigned but used virtually nationwide for directory assistance.
  • 511: Assigned for traffic information.
  • 611: Unassigned but used for carrier repair service.
  • 711: Assigned nationwide for access to telecom relay services.
  • 811: Unassigned but used by local exchange carriers for business office use.
  • 911: Unassigned but used nationally for emergency services.
  Source: FCC
        In Greater Cincinnati, 211, not 511, has been used to provide updated traffic information under a longstanding trial with the ARTIMIS traffic information system.

        Tressie Long, Cincinnati Bell spokeswoman, said the FCC has yet to issue the specifics of its order “so we don't know the timing of it or whether they'll grant any exceptions.”

        It will be up to local governments and charities to work out how to implement, and pay for, the new numbers, so they won't be available immediately, officials said.

        The commission also man dated that telecommunication carriers implement a 711 code to contact operators that relay messages between those with speech or hearing disabilities and other callers.

        The agency further ordered that broadcasters and cable companies provide some voice narration of the action in TV shows in their biggest markets.

        In the TV plan, broadcasters affiliated with NBC, ABC, Fox and CBS in their top 25 markets would have to provide about four hours per week of described prime time and/or children's programming. Cable operators and satellite companies with more than 50,000 subscribers would have to provide the same amount of time for each of the top five national non-broadcast channels they carry.

        The requirements take effect beginning April 2002. The commission will later consider whether to expand the mandate to more markets. While the measure received majority approval, two commissioners challenged whether the agency had the statutory authority to impose the obligations.

        The FCC also ordered that details of local emergency information contained in newscasts be made available to the sight-impaired.

        In the service, descriptions of events are squeezed into the natural pauses already in the program. For example, television audiences would be told that a character is running down the street or hugging a friend.

        The 711 code would consolidate dozens of toll-free numbers now in use.


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