Saturday, November 27, 2021
30.0°F

Callers will soon need to dial 406 for all communication

by MONTE TURNER
Mineral Independent | April 28, 2021 12:00 AM

Montana’s area ode, 406, has almost become a rock star symbol, and at this point it’s the only area code needed to cover the entire Big Sky County.

These numbers were assigned to Montana by AT&T and the Bell System in 1947 along with all other area codes that were established throughout the United States of America.

Out-of-state visitors have referred to us as ‘406ers’ which is a serious compliment. We all see T-shirts, hoodies, hats, window stickers, decals, coffee mugs, license plate holders, etc. with those three digits because that is all that is needed to describe our lifestyle.

No matter where you live in Montana, 406 is replacing NATIVE as we continue to grow with more newbies wanting what we already have and appreciate.

Very soon, the three numbers are going to become a part of our cell and line land communication because they will need to be dialed every time you make a call to anyone in the Last Best Place, whether or not they’re in the state.

The Montana Public Service Commission staff said that everyone should start using the 406-area code for all Montana calls starting April 24, 2021. Beginning Oct. 24, 2021, Montana calls without the 406-area code will not be connected.

The change is the result of the FCC approving ‘988’ as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Lifeline. Along with that change, the FCC also ruled that any state with a 988 prefix, Dillon numbers here in Montana, must move to mandatory 10 digit dialing in order to avoid accidental calls to the lifeline.

Beginning July 16, 2022, dialing 988 will route all calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. But until this date, customers must continue to dial 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) to reach the Lifeline.

The fix will require all Montanans to use the 406 area code for all phone calls, local and long distance but we are not alone, as 36 other states are having to tune up their phone numbers to accommodate the new 988 help line.

“If you preprogram on you cell phone, I know some people just have the seven digits. When this becomes effective, you’re going to have to go in and do the 406, unless cell phone companies have a way of doing it, but not that I know of,” said Tina Shorten, who works on consumer affairs at the Public Service Commission.

The new 988 lifeline will work nationwide the same way the 911 emergency number does, starting July 16, 2022.

Calling 988 from anywhere should connect the caller with nearby suicide prevention assistance. The national lifeline number has been in the works for some time and the Federal Communications Commission approved the 988 number for all telecommunications carriers, interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol providers, and one-way VoIP providers last year.

There's still work to be done before Montana can activate 988, said Matt Kuntz, who directs the Montana branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Each state needs about $1 million a year to make 988 functional.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is working with Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, a Helena Democrat, to get a funding bill through the legislature. If there's any grousing by lawmakers about coming up with state money for this new federal program created by Congress, the bill's sponsor, Governor Greg Gianforte, will be on the second floor of the state Capitol in the governor's office.

At the time, then-Congressman Gianforte introduced the suicide hotline bill in 2019. It was passed by Congress on March 20. The bill "authorizes states to collect a fee limited to supporting local crisis call centers within the national network or enhancements of such services."

When Congress approved the bill, Gianforte noted that Montana had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. He said suicide was the leading cause of death for Montanans age 15 to 24.

"We'll see how it goes, but we're really grateful for Congressman Gianforte to pass that" Kuntz said. "It would have been hard without his support."