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Originally started in the early 1960s as a “Freephone” service in the United Kingdom, AT&T capitalized on the opportunity to create an alternative collect calling method and reduce the need for operators. The service was introduced as IN-WATS, or Inward Wide-Area Telephone Service, and was used by major hospitality companies such as the Americana, Hyatt, Marriott, Rodeway, Sheraton and Quality Inn. Unfortunately, the call centers were so difficult to operate that the service providers soon went out of business.
But the battle was far from over. In conjunction with Northwestern Bell, AT&T continued to join forces with Telesystems and First Data Resources to implement a new method known as Direct Inward Dialing (DID) to assist call centers in handling traffic. Flow design finally found purpose and practicality. In 1982, AT&T purchased a patent from Roy P. Weber known as the “Data Base Communication Call Processing Method” or what we know today as the toll free number service. As you already know, AT&T was declared a monopoly and subsequently broke up in 1984. It wasn’t until the 1990s, with the FCC’s decentralization of toll free services to inspire competition among 800 vanity number providers, that it rose to such a valuable tool in the branding of businesses. Forty-five years later, not only have 800 toll free numbers become relevant, they’ve evolved with today’s latest technology.
1-800 numbers are still the preferred modus operandi for nonprofit helplines that directly connect callers with organizations that help with suicide, child abuse, and smoking. 800 numbers also serve various Government organizations such as passport offices and the IRS. Not only can 800 numbers serve as hotlines for television shows and entertainment, viewers can even vote on certain aspects of a show and voice their opinion. You can even pay for parking through an 800 phone service.
Over the years, 800 vanity numbers have spanned new industries and purposes and only time will tell what this wonderful service will continue to bring businesses across the country.