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Use of Toll-Free Numbers for Video and IP Relay Service

Background

A toll-free phone number is a number beginning with 800, 855, 866, 877 or 888 instead of a geographic area code.  If you have been given a toll-free number, and a hearing person calls you through a Video Relay Service (VRS) or IP Relay Service using that toll-free number, he is not charged for his phone call to the Relay Service.  (Deaf users who call you directly are never charged for their call, whether they call you using your local number or toll-free number.)

On August 4, 2011, the FCC adopted new rules to promote the use of geographically appropriate local telephone numbers, while ensuring that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community has access to toll-free telephone numbers that is equivalent to the access enjoyed by the hearing community. These rules went into effect on November 22, 2011, and allow for a one year transition period that will end on November 21, 2012.

Releases

11/22/11 Wireline Competition Bureau Announces Date for Internet-Based Telecommunications Relay Service Numbering Rules and Beginning of Transition Period. Dockets WC 10-191; CG 03-123; WC 05-196. DA 11-1931.
Public Notice: Word || PDF

8/4/11 Internet-Based Telecommunications Relay Service Numbering. The Commission adopted rules to improve assignment of telephone numbers associated with iTRS. Docket Numbers 10-191, 05-196, and 03-123. FCC-11-123.
Report & Order: Word || PDF

What's Changed?

This change doesn’t affect your ability to call toll-free numbers, such as your bank’s or insurance company’s 800 number.  It affects only your ability to receive calls if you currently have a toll-free number that was issued by a Relay Service provider.  If you have a toll-free number now and want to continue using that number, you will need to transfer that number to a toll-free service provider and pay the monthly subscription fees.  Under the FCC’s rules, Relay Service providers that have been giving out toll-free numbers at no cost are no longer permitted to do so.

If you are satisfied with your local number and do not want to subscribe to a toll-free number, you do not have to do anything.

What if I don't transfer my toll-free number to my own subscription?

If you don’t transfer the number to a company that provides toll-free number service, then your Relay Service provider will disconnect your toll-free number by November 21, 2012.  After that, neither deaf nor hearing callers will be able to reach you at that number.  So if people have been calling you using a toll-free number and you decide you’re not going to transfer and pay for your toll-free number in the future, you should begin asking callers to use your local number and should include your local number (not your toll-free number) in your contact information.

How do I continue to use my toll-free number?

You should begin by visiting the web site of the VRS or IP Relay Service provider that issued you the toll-free number.  You will find instructions there on how to have that number transferred to you so that you become the “end-user subscriber” who can manage the number and has financial responsibility for associated charges.

As part of that procedure you’ll need to select a toll-free Service provider.  To find a list of companies that can provide that service, go to www.sms800.com, click on the “Service Providers” tab, and then click on “get a list of toll-free service providers associated with the SMS/800.”  This list includes contact information and is intentionally randomized; you may see some company names you recognize, or you may want to research providers online.

Once you select a toll-free service provider from the list, you should contact that provider to begin service.  Follow your VRS or IP Relay Service provider’s instructions for informing the toll-free service provider you select that you want to transfer your toll-free number to their service and have it linked to your local phone number.   You can expect that the toll-free service provider may call you back to make sure it has your correct local and toll-free number information.  

The transfer should take no more than two days to complete.  After that, hearing people will be able to call you through the Relay Service using that toll-free number.  You will then be a customer of the toll-free service provider and will pay that provider directly for your toll-free number subscription.

In order for deaf people to be able to call you directly at that toll-free number and for hearing people to be able to make dial-around calls to you at that number through an alternate Relay Service provider, you’ll have to inform your VRS or IP Relay Service provider.  The Relay Service provider will have instructions at its web site for how to do this. You can expect that the Relay Service provider may place a voice telephone call to your toll-free number in order to confirm that your toll-free number is properly set up to connect through to the Relay Service, just as your local number does.

What if I don't have a toll-free number now, but would like to get one?

All VRS and IP Relay Service providers have a procedure on their web sites explaining how to get a new toll-free number.  As part of this procedure you’ll have to select a toll-free service provider as described in the previous section, and obtain a new toll-free number from that provider.  Also as described in the previous section, you’ll have to follow your VRS or IP Relay Service provider’s procedures for informing the relay service provider about your new toll-free number so that deaf people will be able to call you directly at that toll-free number and hearing people to be able to make dial-around calls to you at that number through an alternate Relay Service provider.

What happens to my toll-free number if I change VRS or IP relay service providers?

Once you have a subscription for your own toll-free number, you can move your local number to a new Relay Service provider and your toll-free number will continue to work automatically.  However, if you do move your local number to a new Relay Service provider, you should inform the new provider that there is a toll-free number associated with your local number.

What happens if I cancel my subscription with the toll-free service provider?

If you have your own toll-free number subscription, either because you transferred an existing number to a toll-free service provider or because you acquired a new number from a toll-free service provider, and you later decide to cancel your subscription, then you will need to promptly inform your Relay Service provider that you no longer have that toll-free number.

What if I have a toll-free number but I never use it?

If you currently have a toll-free number that was issued to you by a Relay Service provider but that you never use, then you can inform the Relay Service provider who issued it to you and have it cancelled at any time.  If you do nothing, then your toll-free number will automatically be canceled by November 21, 2012.

For More Information

For more information about the FCC’s ten-digit numbering requirements, see the FCC consumer guides at www.fcc.gov/guides/ten-digit-numbering-and-911-calls-internet-based-trsand www.fcc.gov/guides/ten-digit-numbering-and-emergency-call-handling-procedures-internet-based-trs. For more information about TRS, VRS or IP Relay, or to learn more about FCC programs to promote access to telecommunications services for people with disabilities, visit the FCC’s Disability Rights Office website. For information about other communications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau website, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554.

 

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