The Introduction of Toll Free Calling
With little fanfare and meager expectations, in
1967 AT&T launched a new product called "interstate INWARD WATS."
Actually, "launch" is a strong word, because AT&T never envisioned
the radical changes this product would bring to the world of
business. Their new "WATS" service had been developed as a
solution to meet an anticipated shortage of telephone company
operators. These operators were becoming overwhelmed by the
number of collect calls that were being accepted by businesses. AT&T believed that this new service, also known as
"Automated Collect Calling", was a perfect solution, but
otherwise had limited appeal. Nobody at AT&T
would have dreamed that by 1992, only 25 short years after initial
introduction, 40% of the calls on AT&T's long distance network would
be toll free calls.
From a Novelty, to Smart Business
In the early years, toll free calling was a
novelty and experienced modest growth. The catalyst for
explosive growth in toll free calling came with the creation of
centralized databases within AT&T's network in the 1980s.
These databases allowed businesses to have a single nationwide
toll-free number instead of requiring different numbers for each
state. The early days of modest growth were long forgotten and
almost overnight it became smart business to advertise a toll-free
number. This in turn grew into an expectation that companies
wanting business would provide a toll-free number. By the late
1980's, what had been simply a novelty a decade before, was now a
requirement for any serious business.
Toll Free Calling in the Information Age
Today, the combination of a Web site and a
toll-free number provides businesses a truly global, electronic
storefront. As businesses harness the power of the Web with
the ease of use and ubiquity of the telephone, toll-free will play a
major role. From its humble beginning as interstate "INWARD
WATS", toll-free calling has become an indispensable
part of American life – for consumers as well as businesses.
A Timeline of Toll Free History
1967: AT&T launches "Inbound WATS."
1984: Toll Free Services "Unbundled" by MFJ*
1994: Toll Free Number Portability Mandated
1996: "888" Service Introduced
1997: International Toll Free Introduced
1998: "877" Service Introduced
2000: "866" Service Introduced
Modified Final Judgment (MFJ) issued by District Court Judge Harold
Greene and caused the divestiture of the "Baby Bells" from AT&T.