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Toll free numbers are telephone numbers with distinct three-digit codes that can be dialed from landlines with no charge to the person placing the call. Such numbers allow callers to reach businesses and individuals out of the area without being charged a long-distance fee for the call.

Toll free numbers are particularly common for customer-service calling. Toll free service has traditionally provided potential customers and others with a free and convenient way to contact businesses. Wireless callers, however, will be charged for the airtime minutes used during a toll free call unless they have an "unlimited calling" plan.

Customers can also send text messages to toll free numbers, so long as those numbers are "text enabled," and businesses can send texts in response.

Toll free codes – 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844 and 833.

Toll free numbers are numbers that begin with one of the following three-digit codes: 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844 or 833. Although 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844 and 833 are all toll free codes, they are not interchangeable. Dialing a number using a 1-800 prefix would reach a different recipient than dialing that number using a 1-888 prefix. Calls to each toll free number are routed to a particular local telephone number.

How are toll free numbers assigned?

The FCC assigns most toll free numbers on a first-come, first-served basis. Toll free subscribers choose entities called "Responsible Organizations" or "RespOrgs" to reserve numbers on their behalf and to manage and administer the appropriate records for the toll free subscribers. Many RespOrgs also provide toll free service. RespOrgs have access to a toll free database that contains information regarding the status of all toll free numbers. Somos, Inc., administrator of the toll free number database, certifies RespOrgs.

The FCC made certain numbers in the 833 toll free code available via an auction. The 833 Auction is an experiment to determine how to use competitive bidding to most effectively assign toll free numbers. For more information about the 833 Auction, visit http://auction.somos.com.

You can contact a RespOrg if you want to obtain a toll free number. If you need help locating a RespOrg, call or text the Somos Help Desk at 1-844-HEY SOMOS (1-844-439-7666), or visit www.somos.com/find-a-toll-free-number for assistance.

The FCC's role

The FCC sets the rules for getting and using toll free numbers. The FCC requires that toll free numbers be portable, meaning that a subscriber can "port," or move, their number to a new RespOrg when changing service providers.

However, the FCC is not involved in the actual assignment of toll free numbers and cannot access the number database. Nor can the FCC provide any information about the status of a number.

What is a vanity number?

A "vanity" number is a toll free telephone number that spells a name, word or acronym chosen by the subscriber, such as 1-800-FLOWERS or 1-888-NEW-CARS.

'Warehousing,' 'hoarding' and 'brokering' toll free numbers

FCC rules prohibit RespOrgs from "warehousing" toll free numbers. A RespOrg may not legally reserve a toll free number without having an actual toll free subscriber for whom the number is being reserved. RespOrgs who warehouse numbers are subject to penalties.

"Hoarding" by subscribers is similarly prohibited by FCC rules. A subscriber may not acquire more toll free numbers than the subscriber intends to use. Hoarding also includes the illegal practice of "number brokering" – the selling or offering to sell a toll free number.

The FCC has provided an exception to the rules prohibiting warehousing, hoarding, and number brokering for numbers assigned via competitive bidding, such as the numbers assigned in the 833 Auction.

Printable Version

What Is a Toll Free Number and How Does It Work? (pdf)


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