The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the use of toll-free numbers and establishes rules on how they can be obtained and used.
Launched in 1967 by AT&T, 800 numbers came under the purview of the FCC in the 1980s when the phone service monopoly broke apart. In 1991, the FCC required that toll-free numbers be portable, meaning that a toll-free number subscriber can “port” his or her number to a new provider when changing toll-free number service providers.
When the popular 800 numbers became scarce, the FCC introduced the 888 and 877 numbers in the mid-1990s and 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 numbers currently reserved by the FCC. Insiders say these numbers may not be released for several years.
FCC’s rules designate the criteria for determining the status of each toll-free number, and prohibit “warehousing” and “hoarding” of toll-free numbers. However, the FCC does not oversee the assignment of toll-free numbers and does not have direct access to the toll-free number database maintained by the 800 Services Management System (SMS/800).
The FCC cannot provide any information about the status of a toll-free number or a request for a toll-free number on behalf of a customer. The FCC cannot reserve or hold numbers for a customer but they can mediate conflicts that arise over rights of ownership of specific numbers.
The FCC can intervene if they find a number is being used in a manner contrary to the established regulations. For instance, in 2005 the FCC took control of 1-800 RED-CROSS from a private owner and handed it over to the non-profit.
The value of toll free service has become a necessity for any type of business. The limited availability of new numbers and the limited turnover of used numbers have created an intense and competitive demand for 1-800, 888, 877 and 866 numbers. According to the FCC, popularity of toll free service has increased drastically over the past decade for both business and personal use.