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The Common Council is directing the city Law Department to go to court if necessary to retain the 716 area code for this end of the state.

Lining up with Council President James W. Pitts, Council members want the corporation counsel to prepare to sue to stop the Federal Communications and state Public Service commissions from giving the Buffalo area new phone digits.

"The economic cost just to business will be very negative," said Pitts. "It's a tremendously important issue and a lot of people have not understood it. Changing stationery and phone lines is going to be a phenomenal cost to businesses here, and there is no need to do it."

Corporation Counsel Michael Risman said his department is starting to research where to make their legal moves.

"It's not like you can just walk over to Supreme Court and get a restraining order," he said.

There is a genuine need for new numbers in areas experiencing rapid growth, such as Greater Atlanta, but that is not the situation in the Buffalo-Rochester area served by 716, Pitts said.

"The current numbering system is so outdated and inefficient that nearly 3.5 million of the nearly 8 million numbers presently available in 716 are not being used at this time," Pitts said.

City Office of Telecommunications staffers, asked by Pitts to gather data, reported back that 716 will not run out of numbers until late next year, while new FCC regulations are due this spring.

Thomas Tarepacki, telecommunications director, said it is hoped that new number conservation measures will eliminate the need for a new area code. The problem is that the many telephone companies serving customers in the area are assigned telephone numbers in blocks of 10,000, and may have hundreds or thousands of unusued numbers, he said.

Distributing numbers to the telephone companies in blocks of 1,000 instead of 10,000 would be a good start, he said.

Tuesda is the cutoff date for the comment period on the possible splitting up or taking away of the 716 telephone code, Tarepacki said. He listed options on the table as:

Dividing the region into two or three new calling areas.

Adopting an overlay code with a new area code to new subscribers, while current subscribers retained 716.

Pitts said Rochester political leaders argued to the PSC that the code should remain in their area to avoid damage to the region's economic activity and export business.

Common Council is urging delay of any change until the reformed federal regulations are in effect and their effectiveness can be evaluated.

News Washington Bureau Chief Douglas Turner also contributed to this article.

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