On being ... port-able?

By Ingrid Sapona

In this era of passwords and PIN numbers, it’s a real challenge to remember them all. One number I bet you remember is the phone number at your house growing up. In my case, that phone number has been around for over 50 years and until today, it’s been the one that rang at my Mom’s house.

Phone numbers have been a topic of discussion around here of late. Last year one of my sisters gave me her old cell phone and she added me to her U.S. cell plan. I don’t use that phone a lot – just when I’m in the States. In fact, I use it so seldom, I can never remember the number. That can be embarrassing when I ask someone to call me back, but then I can’t tell them what number to call. Ugh.

When my sister and I initially talked about her adding me to her plan, I assumed I’d get a number with a Texas area code, as that’s where she lives. To my surprise, she ended up getting me a number with a Buffalo area code. She figured that made sense because I’d use the phone mainly when I’m visiting Mom in Buffalo. So, I always think of that phone as my “Buffalo cell”.

I was actually pretty amazed that she could just pick the area code she wanted for the cell. I had never heard of that. I always assumed a phone number has some connection to the billing location. But I guess – at least with cell phones – that’s not necessarily the case any more.

I wasn’t around when phone numbers started with an actual location, but from the song “Pennsylvania 6-5000” I know that they used to. (Apparently Pennsylvania 6-5000 was a phone exchange for the area around Penn Station in New York.) I AM old enough to remember a variation of that name/number convention because people in our neighborhood used to say their phone numbers with letters in the first two places, rather than numbers. So, for example, our phone number started with “NX4”, followed by the last four digits.

At some point I noticed everyone in our neighborhood had a phone number that started with “NX”. After that, I started paying attention to telephone prefixes (that’s what I call the first three numbers after the area code) because I realized they gave you a general idea of where a person or business might be located. In the days before GPS, knowing that was pretty helpful. And, on the flip side, if you knew the prefix for a certain area, it was easier to remember the number of someone you knew who lived in that area.

When I bought my condo in 2007 I was hoping to keep my phone number because it was also my business number. But, I knew I was moving outside the area I always associated with the phone prefix I had. Sadly, when I inquired, I learned I’d be assigned a new number.

Facing loss of the number that had been my business number for over 10 years, I got a little creative. I asked whether my business number, which was a land line, could become my cell phone number. That was doable because, by then, you could “port” an existing number to a cell phone. I was tickled. Sure, it meant the added expense of a cell phone (remember, in 2007 cell phones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today), but it was worth it to me to keep my business number.

Now, back to the Buffalo cell… There are times when it’s come in handy, but with two cells it’s very easy to miss texts and messages because one cell is usually turned off to avoid roaming charges. Believe me, I completely understand Hillary Clinton’s (some would say questionable) decision to use just one cell! Anyway, about a month ago my sister told me she’s planning on switching cell providers. Her new plan will cover North America for calling, text, and data and she’s offered to add the Buffalo cell to the new plan, if I want it. I thanked her for the generous offer, but I asked for some time to consider it.

In thinking about it, I realized much of my ambivalence comes from not liking the Buffalo cell number and having no sense of connection to it. I wondered if I’d use that phone more if it was a number I liked. That’s when I had the idea of porting our long-time family phone number to the Buffalo cell, given that we’d otherwise lose the number when the phone is disconnected prior to the house closing. I mentioned this to my sisters and they both loved the idea of one of us keeping that number “in the family”. Technology being what it is, as of this afternoon, the family phone number is now the number of the Buffalo cell.

I don’t know about you, but I find stuff like “porting” phone numbers and area codes that don’t necessarily relate to a specific area strange, albeit kinda cool. Of course, to make the most of what’s possible you have to think outside the conventions and norms you grew up with AND you have to be willing to ask.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


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