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Does 800 Toll Free Still Have a Purpose?

Does the business model for the toll free numbers remains valid and is it worth the time, trouble and expense to maintain 800 numbers? What does an 800 number do for the subscriber:

  • Provides a national number. The 800 number gives the company a phone number that can be dialed anywhere in the country.
  • Provides a location free number. The 800 number is not associated with a particular locality or region.
  • Caller Pays no Toll Charges. The 800 number is free for the caller, so they do not hesitate to call, because they don't have to pay for it.
  • Provides a vanity number. The 800 number provides a 7 digit vanity number for easy remembering.
  • Can get listed in 800-555-1212. The ATT toll free directory will only list toll free numbers.

Provides a national number

The original proposition questions the validity of each of these benefits. What is a "national number"? Pretty much any phone number will route properly when dialed anywhere in the country, so any number is a national number? Actually, this is less the case with 800 numbers, where there exists (or used to exist) regional toll free numbers which would only work within the RBOC or LATA and the number would not work or would be assigned to someone else in another LATA. There was even an anomaly at one point in time, after divestiture, that long distance toll free numbers would work everywhere except in the local LATA, because the long distance carrier was prohibited from providing local phone services.

Additionally, when it comes to routing some of the new/strange VoIP companies (e.g., skype) often have trouble connecting 800 numbers. Certainly, there are multiple challenges when a caller wants to dial a toll free number from outside the country. So it sometimes matters where you are and what phone you are using to dial an 800 number, so is calling this a national number a misnomer?

Provides a location free number

When there where only 160 area codes ([2-9][0-1][0-9]) the geeks could almost remember where they where assigned. Now that pretty much every carrier has eliminated either seven digit dialing or ten digit dialing (they either prohibit seven digit dialing or require eleven digits (1+)), there are 800 possible area codes. So no one remembers where the new ones are assigned, quick quiz, where is 424?

Additionally, with local number portability,VoIP and cell phones, people and business have moved their numbers around. So the area assigned to the area code is slowly becoming a less valid indicator of the location of the called. The use of forwarding services for both 800 and regular numbers have been used to disconnect this association between number and location for various reasons.

Caller Pays no Toll Charges

Most phone services these days come with unlimited long distance. So fewer people are paying for long distance on a per call basis every day. My phone service that I bought from Verizon, my local phone company, came with unlimited long distance without my asking. I'm sure there is someone still paying on a per call basis. Cell phone users will pay the same per call/per minute charges to a toll free that they pay to a non toll free number.

Another problem is with the proliferation of toll free prefixes, I'm not sure if a number is toll free by number. 800 and 888 are toll free, How about 877? 866? 855? 844? 887? 889? When you get toward the end of the list, I, the expert, would need to break out the Google search.

Provides a vanity number

Other than I have to look at the keyboard when I dial a Vanity number. The idea of the vanity number is a nice way to allow phone number to be recalled easily. There is an active service of searching for and providing vanity toll free numbers. One of the problems with this concept is the multiple toll free area code prefixes cause some frequent misrecollection of the numbers, e.q. Was that 800-taxicab or 888-taxicab?

Why not use all 10 digits of the vanity number? Anyone looking for a new business opportunity?

Can get listed in 800-555-1212

Since we are in the business of directory assistance we should know the status of 800-555-1212. The FCC seems to think it went out of business in March 31, 2000. A search of the web seems to indicate that either TellMe Networks runs it or ATT is still operating it. In either case it is not obvious how to get your toll free number into the database and how much they will charge for that inclusion.


I can't decide. Maybe next year.

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