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Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are celebrating a CRTC decision to hold off adding an 879 area code to their familiar 709 code.Paul Daly

Disgruntled Newfoundlanders who don't like the ring of the province's new 879 area code, an unfamiliar trio of digits for residents long accustomed to dialling 709, are celebrating after receiving a reprieve.

It was handed down by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the regulatory body that decides where and when new area codes will be added. The regulator has backpedalled on its earlier decision to introduce a new number to Newfoundland and Labrador by the end of 2018.

For residents who were dreading the shift, the announcement amounts to a double win: Not only do they get to keep their long-standing area code, people making local calls throughout Newfoundland and Labrador need only punch in seven digits (this is in contrast to most parts of Canada and the United States, where 10-digit dialling has become the norm).

This perk, in particular, has brought widespread relief on the Rock.

"It wasn't the extra effort of having to dial the extra three numbers," said Scott Parsons, a home-care worker who lives in Conception Bay South. "It just makes everybody seem so distant."

That feeling was compounded by the prospect of grappling with a new area code.

"We've become accustomed to 709 being Newfoundland and Labrador. That was us," Mr. Parsons said. "When they bring in the new area code, it just won't seem so personal. It won't seem like we're actually calling our neighbour down the road or whatever the case may be."

For most of his life growing up in Shearstown, part of Bay Roberts, Mr. Parsons and his family had to dial just four numbers to reach most everyone they had reason to call.

"Most of the people in the community we knew by name. You could remember what their phone number was, their four-digit code," he said. "When it changed over so that we had to dial seven numbers, it kind of threw everybody for a loop."

Newfoundlanders would do well not to let their guard down completely. While the CRTC has not set a new implementation date for the 879 area code – with it will come 10-digit dialling for everyone in the province – its arrival nonetheless remains on the horizon.

"It will eventually happen. What we don't know is when," said Glen Brown, a spokesman for the Canadian Numbering Administrator, which assigns numbers to telephone service providers and secures new area codes when one is required.

To make sure that no one runs out of telephone numbers, Mr. Brown said that the administrator plans six and even seven years in advance for volume and demand increases. He said that 14 service providers operate throughout Newfoundland and Labrador; a few years back, their forecasts for future needs underscored "a jeopardy situation," Mr. Brown said.

"It looked like we were in this dire situation based on what the phone industry was telling us," Mr. Brown said, adding that reports from the phone companies indicated they were "going to run out of resources before we could have a new [area code] in place."

A new area code – 879 – was secured and a public education campaign was mounted to start getting residents used to the idea that they would soon need to dial 10 digits even if they were only calling locally.

"Then something happened," Mr. Brown said. "I can't divulge what … it's a variety of factors. But basically the phone companies changed their forecast and all of a sudden we don't need as many [numbers] as we were going to originally," he said.

Part of the secrecy, Mr. Brown said, is due to the fact that telephone companies are sensitive about the information they submit to the administrator, which includes plans for market growth and expansion. It is common, though, for companies to forecast expanded markets in boom times and to shrink those forecasts during downturns. "We see this all the time across the country," Mr. Brown said.

The retention of seven-digit dialling, it turns out, is an unexpected upside of gritty economic times in Newfoundland.

"Having just seven digits to dial is one of those things that makes us different," said Margaret Noseworthy, a security consultant in Corner Brook. "We don't really need to be dialling 10 numbers anyway. When it does happen, I think it's going to be a sad day for a lot of people here," she said. "Seven digits is familiar. It's safe. It's comforting, you know?"

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