The Regulations of 1800 Numbers and the Role of the FCC

In 1967, AT&T rolled out the first 1800 numbers. In the U.S, these numbers are known as toll free numbers whereas the rest of the world may refer to them as “Freephone numbers”.  Since the introduction of the toll free numbers, their demand has been constantly soaring. In 1996, 1800 numbers were exhausted and so new toll free prefixes were introduced. First, the 888 prefix was introduced and then gradually 877, 866 were introduced. 855 were introduced most recently – in 2010.

Assigning Toll Free Numbers

All 1800 numbers are stored in a centralized database, which is known as the Service Management System (SMS/800). In order to reserve a toll free number, you need to contact a Responsible Organization. Toll free numbers are usually assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. Responsible Organizations or RespOrgs may or may not be telephone companies. They can either be telephone companies, other companies or individuals. They must have the certification and privilege to access SMS/800 database. RespOrgs check the availability of a number and reserve it for its customers. There are many RespOrg across the U.S. and you can find one by visiting or by calling their Help Desk at 1 888 SMS 3300.

Role of the FCC in Assigning Toll Free Numbers

The FCC governs the rules regarding 1800 numbers for your business. It is neither involved in the day-to-day assignment of toll free numbers nor does it have access to the centralized database. It acts as a governing body that regulates the rules for these numbers.

The FCC prohibits warehousing or hoarding of toll free numbers, which means that a service provider cannot own a large block of toll free numbers without assigning them to actual subscribers. Hoarding of these numbers even by RespOrgs are subject to a penalty. Hoarding also constitutes “number brokering”. So it is also illegal for a subscriber to sell his toll free number for a fee. If you have any problem with your service provider, you can issue a complaint with the FCC.

Portability of Toll Free Numbers

Until 1991, RespOrgs were the only providers of 1 800 numbers, until FCC ordered for the full portability of toll free numbers in that same year. Portability of these numbers ensured that users could change their service provider without changing their number. The portability of 1800 numbers opened up the market. Now once you buy a toll free number, it does not expire. RespOrgs also started their own businesses. They started their own websites to attract new customers to their business.

Advent of Vanity Numbers

Since then there has been a change in the characteristics of 1800 numbers as well.  Soon after toll free numbers became portable, there emerged a special type of toll free numbers, known as vanity numbers. Vanity numbers, in reality are mnemonics that easily sticks to the mind of people. A research report by shows that vanity numbers can provide an almost 84% recall rate as compared to a numeric toll free number shown in visual media.  Vanity numbers are especially successful in marketing and promotional efforts. They help to build brand awareness and also work as a way of communication.


Posted on April 4, 2013, in 1 800 Numbers, 1800 Numbers and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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