West Texas will get two new area codes next year to handle continued regional growth and the added demand for more phone lines. The Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued an order Thursday to create a geographic split of the 915 area code into three individual area code regions. The decision came after a series of public meetings and comments on several proposals to accommodate the increased demand. Current estimates predict that the 915 area code will run out of numbers in early 2004. The three-way split approved by the PUC will prevent the need for additional area codes in the three regions for an estimated 17 to 20 years. While approximately two-thirds of customers in the current 915 region will have to change their area code, the PUC determined the three-way split is the best way to preserve local interests. For example, the three-way split allows the Midland-Odessa metropolitan area to continue sharing a common area code. The three-way split also allows customers to keep seven-digit dialing for local calls. The approved plan received overwhelming support from both residential and business customers during the public comment period. The Commission designated the El Paso area to retain the 915 area code because of its concentrated population, extensive bilingual network and well-developed international commerce. The rest of the current 915 area code will be divided by two north-south boundaries as shown on the map. The current schedule calls for the two new area codes to be introduced in April 2003 followed by a recorded reminder to dial a new area code in October 2003. Mandatory dialing using the new area codes is scheduled to begin December 2003. An extensive customer education program to introduce customers to the new area codes will begin in early 2003.