CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - By the end of 2015, calling someone in the Lowcountry, even your next door neighbor, will involve dialing 10 digits instead of seven.
That's because a new area code, 854, will debut in the fall of 2015, and require callers to dial the area codes and phone number for all calls.
The new code will "overlay" the existing 843 area code, which means that new phone numbers being assigned for people who live in the current 843 zone may get the 854 number instead, according to Dep. Executive Director Nanette Edwards of the state's Office of Regulatory Staff.
The new area code is needed because growth in the Lowcountry has caused a shortage of telephone numbers, Edwards said. But people who currently have 843 telephone numbers will not be required to change them to the new numbers.
The changes will be phased in to give telephone customers a chance to get used to them.
Beginning in March, a "permissive" 10-digit dialing period begins. During this time, subscribers may dial local calls within the overlay area with either seven digits or all 10, and the calls will go through, according to a letter from the North American Numbering Plan Administration, the agency which assigns and manages area codes.
But beginning on Sept. 19, callers must dial with all 10 digits, the area code and telephone number, or else their calls will not go through.
The earliest date at which a new 854 telephone number can be issued will be Oct. 19, the agency said.
The current 843 area code zone generally includes the coastal region of South Carolina, including Charleston, Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach and Florence.