Digital Life


Big Carrie on as phone providers try to take 212 away from Manhattan

One of Manhattan's status symbols, a telephone number starting with 212, is under threat. Voice-over-internet providers, led by Vonage Holdings, want direct access to the national pool of unused numbers.

The US Federal Communications Commission is considering a trial to enable numbers to be assigned regardless of location.

With the change would go a bit of urban culture celebrated in television's Seinfeld, when character Elaine Benes schemes to get a dead neighbour's 212 number, and in the Sex and the City movie, in which Carrie Bradshaw wails she's ''a 917 gal'' who deserves New York's oldest mobile area code.

''I'm very dead set on a 917 or 212, because I'm not one of the new people,'' said Diana Mitchell, a sales and rental agent with broker Citi Habitats. A 212 number shows clients ''I'm not sitting in some borough somewhere'', she said. ''They think, and I immediately think, 'office in Manhattan'.''

The links between place and phone number have weakened as people retain numbers when they switch carriers, but some New Yorkers don't want to hear it.

David Day, whose business sells phone numbers with that prefix, says: ''Two-one-two will always be associated with New York, because of the history. Always was, always will be.''