North America Should Join the World

by Colin Berkshire

Colin Here. The North American Numbering Plan (NANP) is the only region of the world which doesn’t follow the world standard for dialing. It’s time for us to get in line.

The world is divided up into 8 dialing regions. For example, North America is “1” and Western Asia is “8”. Country codes are assigned within these dialing regions, such as 81 for Japan and 86 for China.

The oddball to the rule is our own North American system where some 25 different countries all share region “1” with no country code following the “1”. This means that a caller cannot know that dialing “345-678-9000” is an international call to the Cayman Islands that could cost over a dollar a minute. Indeed many a scam has taken advantage of this by leaving callback numbers to numbers that look like they are in the US but that are not. Heck, I even get tricked into calling Canadian numbers, something my cell phone company seems to think is worth half a dollar a minute.

The answer is simple. We should follow the global standard. The United states should be country code “11” and Canada should be “12”. The other 23 countries can be assigned country codes from 131 through 159.

While making this change, we should also address number exhaustion. Sometime before 2040 the North American numbering plan will simply run out of numbers. No more area codes, no more numbers. There are several proposals for inserting an extra digit so that calls would use 11 digit dialing. I won’t get into that here. But why not make both changes at the same time?

Hence, calling San Francisco from China would be “11-4915-345-6789”. (Stuffing a “9” into the area code as the second digit is a leading contender because, well, why not.

I think that creating country codes within the North American numbering plan would be a great thing to do at the same time that we expand dialing to 11 digits. If we’re making one dialing change, why not make both concurrently?