Starting in April 2006, local residents will have to start dialing 10 digits to talk to their neighbors.
But under a plan unveiled last week in Atlanta, callers in the 706 area code don't have to worry about changing their phone numbers.
"I feel like it is going to make a big difference," said Sherry Key, an office assistant for Dr. Carroll Hughes. "People are not going to be used to dialing an area code to call local numbers."
Starting Sept. 1, residents can use either the seven-digit or the 10-digit number.
Facing projections that the 706 area code would run out of available numbers next year, the Georgia Public Service Commission decided to create a so-called "overlay" system.
The commission decided not to break up the region into two different area codes, which would have required a large segment of callers to have to switch their existing number.
Besides requiring the 10-digit dialing, the overlay system also means that there will be two different area codes in the same city.
The second area code - according to the North American Numbering Plan Administration which oversees the country's allocation of telephone numbers - will be 762.
Several years ago, regulators found out that the 706 region, which includes Thomson, Athens, Augusta and Columbus, was hitting its limit with the surge in cell phone accounts and increasing population. But they were able to delay changes by tapping into unused phone numbers.
"I think that a number of conservation methods that the commission put forth indeed helped that situation," Commissioner David Burgess said.
He said the overlay system would be less disruptive for businesses.
At LMN Pharmacy in Thomson, Pharmacist Linton Neal said dealing with the dialing wouldn't be that much of a challenge.
"It won't bother me at all," he said. "I already dial seven digits, so three more won't make any difference."
But he does foresee some potential problems.
"It will create more work with my record keeping on the computer and other paperwork," he said.
TIMELINE TO SWITCH
Phone users in the 706 area code district will have some time to get used to the new, 10-digit dialing requirements.
Here are some upcoming dates:
Sept. 1 - A "permissive" dialing period will begin during which 706-callers can use the current seven digits to place a local call or the longer, 10-digit number that includes the area code.
Apr. 3, 2006 - The 10-digit dialing will be required to place a local call. A recording will tell callers to hang up and dial the complete number if they do not use the area code.
April-June, 2006 - The 706 area code region is expected to run out of available numbers. Once that happens, new phone subscribers or lines will be assigned the new area code.
Source: Georgia Public Service Commission