Most businesses large and small use 800 toll free numbers as a vital way to conduct business. It is hard to imagine a world without 800 numbers, but where did they originally come from?
Early Years (1967-1984)
In the beginning, toll-free dialing was nothing more than a novelty. It was only thought of as an alternative to calling someone collect. The first company to use an 800 number had a business hosting numbers for large companies. These were primarily national car rental and hotel chains. That company eventually went out of business. When that happened, their clients established call centers of their own using 800 toll free numbers.
Even though the popularity of 800 numbers continued to increase as a business tool during this time period, there was one major problem for companies who wanted to use them. AT&T had a monopoly on them. Therefore, they forced companies to pay rates that were many times higher than those charged for regular calls. However, it was only a matter of time until this AT&T monopoly would end.
Regulation and Expansion (1984-1994)
AT&T finally had their monopoly come to an end in 1984, when a federal judge forced them to be broken up into a dozen companies that were regional. Rates for 800 numbers began to drop due to the competiton for long-distance rates. Many companies could now afford an 800 number that could not when AT&T had control over them. These companies quickly made the 800 toll free number a standard business practice.
Soon after the break up of AT&T, the vanity number became popular. This innovation allowed people and businesses to select a phone number that spelled out words based on the letters contained on the keypad. Phone numbers were made portable between carriers thanks to a 1994 law. If someone had an 800 number that they liked, they could keep it if they changed providers.
Explosion in popularity (1994-2000)
During this era, 800 toll free numbers were no longer only enjoyed by huge national companies. The toll-free number became an integral part of the way that regional companies conducted business. The demand exploded to the point where it surpassed the available supply of 10,000,000. To help meet the demand, 888, 877, 966 and 955 numbers were added.
The Information Age (2000-present)
The cell phone and Internet boom changed business communication forever. However, toll-free numbers are still popular. They are considered a symbol of professionalism. There are now services that will route a toll-free number directly to a cell phone. Because they are so affordable, toll-free numbers should remain popular for years to come.
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