December 30, 2006

Honduran telephone system to change

We don't have regional telephone area codes in Honduras. The entire country is area code 504, which shouldn't be a problem since we only have about 900,000 phone numbers. It would be half that number if it wasn't for the cell phone companies.

Originally the numbering system started out pretty organized. A 7-digit La Ceiba number starts with 4, San Pedro 5, Tegucigalpa 2, and so on.

When the first cell phone company came, all cell phone numbers started with 9. That was convenient to know, since most people will not return a call to a cell phone, knowing that it costs a little bit more. In fact, many companies have enabled call blocking to cell phone numbers so that they physically can't call customers who only have a cell phone.

After several years, a second cell phone company was allowed to come in and they received the numbers starting with 3 and later the first cell phone company was also given numbers starting with 8.

There is also one or more satellite phone companies. Some parts of the country can't be reached by landlines or cell phones, but I read an ad in the newspaper indicating that these satellite calls, even local, are US $1 PER MINUTE! Maybe I misunderstood something, I don't know.

A couple of years ago, former president Maduro invited other telephone companies to come to Honduras to provide landline service, since the national telephone company can not provide phone lines to much of the country.

El Jefe tells me that as late as 1992, the town he lived in only had communication by telegraph! Many communities have only one pay telephone.
Whoever answers the pay phone will run down the street to find the person you are calling.

Some communities have
only a tiny Hondutel (the government phone company) office. After receiving a call, the Hondutel employee will make arrangements for the caller to call back at a certain time so the person will be there to take the call. They will then stop someone walking down the street and tell them to go tell so-and-so that her sister is going to call back in 20 minutes. Incredible, huh?

Anyway, no thanks to Hondutel, from whom most of the people (including us) can not get a telephone line at any price, the country is supposedly running out of numbers. No, wait! We can't be running out of telephone numbers: 7 digits means 10 million telephone numbers and we only have about 9% that many phones in all of Honduras.

Anyway, for whatever reason, beginning in January, we are going to have 8 digit telephone numbers! The new prefix will still distinguish between landline and cell phone numbers.

How can this be? Aren't systems all over the world set up to handle 7 digits or 10 digits including the area code? How will we put our telephone number into an online form that only allows 7 or 10 digits?
The plan was developed by Hondutel, so I have a bad feeling about this.

(Later...) Oh, I see now. I did some research and now I see that many countries have 1- to 4-digit city codes to allow for more telephone numbers. Well, you can see I'm from the USA, can't you? What do I know? I also saw that in some countries, instead of a city code, you have to know the telephone company code. That could be confusing.

I remember when Dallas added a new area code. There was something like a one year grace period where a recorded reminder was played every time you made a call to a number which had changed area codes so that you could change your records.

I don't see Hondutel being that organized. We'll see.
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