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Implementing Thousand-block Pooling

Telephone numbers are a finite resource and a key building block central to the operation of Canada’s telecommunication networks. When a geographic area in Canada is forecast to run out of telephone numbers, a new Number Plan Area (“NPA”), or Area Code, is assigned to that area. The current inventory of geographic NPAs available for future use in Canada is down to eight, five of which have been set aside for relief of specific areas.  Recent industry forecasts indicate that the current Canadian inventory of geographic numbers could exhaust by 2030.

Under current rules for number block assignments to Canadian carriers, when a carrier extends services to a new area, it is assigned an entire CO code composed of 10,000 geographic telephone numbers without regard to population or whether the carrier needs that many. This leads to many telephone numbers remaining unused.

In Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2024-26 issued on 5 February 2024 (Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2024-26 | CRTC), the Commission mandated that the Canadian industry use 1000 block pooling (“TBP”) for number block assignments to carriers consistent with the implementation in the US.  Specifically, the Commission directed local exchange carriers (LECs) and wireless carriers to implement TBP:

  1. in all exchanges where number portability has been implemented for new number assignments from geographic NPAs no later than 6 October 2025,

  2. and the implementation is to be based on six-digit routing and the LRN architecture.

The Commission also determined that that a neutral third-party administrator is needed for TBP and that the existing Canadian Number Administrator (“CNA”) is best suited for this function since it has the required knowledge, people, and foundational systems in place.

The decision also includes numerous directives for industry study and reports on many related matters including:

(i)                  recommendations to strengthen the number assignment guidelines, focusing on preserving geographic NANP resources;

(ii)                 required justifications for new number block requests; and

(iii)               whether a carrier obtaining the numbers for another TSP or wholesale customer should be responsible for reporting on the use of those numbers and, if so, how; and

(iv)               whether unused inventory held by carriers should be returned to number pools, and if so, under what conditions;

The above list is not meant to be comprehensive. The first industry report on progress towards implementing TBP is due March 30, 2024.  One can track the activities of the Canadian Steering Committee on Numbering which will be developing many of the required reports here: CNA - Canadian Steering Committee on Numbering (cnac.ca).

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