We often hear about the “Two Maines,” two versions of the state divided on imaginary economic, cultural or geographic lines.

There’s more than one way to cut us up. Sometimes it’s southern Maine vs northern Maine, sometimes it’s coastal vs inland, sometimes its rural vs urban.

But at least in one respect there is only one Maine, and that’s the one defined by our phone numbers.

Whether you are shipyard worker in Kittery or a potato farmer in Fort Kent, the first three digits of your phone number are 207. That’s still true if you harvest lobsters for a living or guide hunting trips for moose; whether you wait tables in Portland or teach school in New Portland; whether your family has been here since the 1600s, or if all of you just arrived.

At least in one respect, there’s only one Maine. But that may not last long because 207’s days are numbered.

Maine is running out of new phone numbers and the 207 area code could be exhausted as soon as 2024. Before that happens, Maine will have to add a new area code, and the telecommunications businesses that serve the state say the sooner that happens the better.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission is not rushing to accommodate them. PUC staff opened an investigation this month titled “Inquiry into Preservation of the 207 Area Code.” The regulators are looking to see if there are ways to make better use of allocated but unused blocks of numbers that are held by telephone providers.

The PUC Chairman Phil Bartlett said that there may be intangible benefits to having a single area code, and it would be worth considering if we can be a little thriftier with the 207 numbers.

This comes at a time when telephone numbers are much less important than they were in the past. Little children used to memorize their home numbers before they could leave the house and could keep all  their friends numbers in their heads as they got older. Getting someone to give you their phone number was practically a courting ritual and businesses tried to turn their numbers into memorable jingles so that customers would remember them.

But with caller ID and the way smart phones store numbers in contact lists, people barely remember their own telephone numbers anymore. A new Maine area code would become part of the confusing blur of user names and passwords that we use to navigate our online lives.

Still, the 207 area code is worth holding onto. At a time when there are so many forces that are driving us apart we should not be too quick to get rid of something that holds us together. There really is only one Maine, and we shouldn’t forget it.


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