1-800 numbers were started in 1967 by AT&T as an alternative to collect calls. Until 1984, AT&T had complete control over all toll free numbers. But when the phone monopoly broke apart, toll free service came under the oversight of the Federal Communications Commission.
In 1991, the FCC required that toll-free numbers be portable, meaning that a toll free subscriber can “port” his or her number to a new provider. Subscribers were no longer locked into their providers.
As interest in toll free service grew, the available supply of 800 numbers became more and more scarce. To address the anticipated shortage, the FCC introduced the 888 and 877 numbers in the mid-1990s and then the 866 pre-fix in 2000.
Available stock of toll free numbers is quickly depleting and industry insiders are awaiting the release of the 855 and 844 numbers currently reserved by the FCC. These numbers, however, may not be released for several years.
Under rules established in 1997 by the Federal Communications Commission, toll free service providers cannot reserve a number without having an actual toll-free subscriber for whom the number is being held. By law, available numbers must be doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. Numbers are selected off the database at the 800 Service Management System (SMS/800).
The SMS/800 Data Center was created to maintain the database of available toll free phone numbers. SMS/800 updates the database and records of the owners of each number.
More and more owners of small businesses are returning to traditional marketing methods once available only to large national companies. Even a start-up business located in a home can present the image of an established, larger company by including a toll free phone number in advertising. It’s good that the toll free industry has progressed so that 1-800 numbers are now available, and affordable, for anyone who wants one.