Tizzy Signal

Revisiting the Hub’s area-code war.

In January 1998, the Boston area faced a numerical crisis: Burgeoning gizmos like beepers and modems (56K!) had gobbled up all the phone numbers with a 617 area code, igniting a political battle when many ’burbs were forced to switch to 781 or 978. We tracked down some of the loudest complainers of that time to ask if, a decade later, 617 was really worth the fuss.

The Loser
Who: State Representative Frank Hynes of Marshfield, which went to 781
Hysterics of ’98: Changes “show a complete lack of understanding of the [region’s] critical need.”
Says today: “No big deal. Human beings are extraordinarily adaptive and resilient.”

The Fighter
Who: Ex–state Senator Warren Tolman, who fought to keep 617 for his Watertown/Belmont district
Hysterics of ’98: “[This is] vindictive, petty legislation that only harms and doesn’t help.”
Says today: “That might have been a little bit overboard.”

The Winner
Who: John Airasian, Watertown businessman
Hysterics of ’98: “This bill doesn’t do anything but hurt Watertown and Belmont.”
Says today: “I would stand by that. The area code identifies you with Greater Boston.”

The Phone Guy
Who: William McIntyre, then Bell Atlantic’s Massachusetts president
Hysterics of ’98: The new codes “would create chaos…our worst fears may come true.”
Says today: “It was implemented extremely professionally, I think.”