The History of Toll Free
The Introduction of Toll
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
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
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
1967: AT&T launches "Inbound
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
MFJ- Modified Final Judgment (MFJ) issued by District
Court Judge Harold Greene and caused the divestiture of
the "Baby Bells" from AT&T.