Toll-Free service is a telecommunication service where subscribers are assigned an 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, or 833 number that allows their customers to reach them without incurring toll charges.
American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) first introduced 800 Toll-Free service in 1967. When AT&T was the only Interexchange Carrier (IC), Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) automatically routed all Toll-Free calls directly to AT&T Point of Presence (POP) without performing a translation from the Toll-Free Number (TFN) to the terminating number. The LECs routed the calls to AT&T based on the first 3 digits (800) of the dialed number. AT&T then performed all number translations and service area validation screenings. Every digit in the number had significance for screening and call routing. Because the system employed this method of Toll-Free call processing, it was limited in its capabilities and required users to have separate TFNs for in-state and out-of-state calls.
In 1981, AT&T introduced its Common Channel Interoffice Signaling (CCIS) network and the Network Services System (NSS) database for providing its own centralized facility for TFN translation and service provisioning. The system required the LEC to screen the first 3 "800" digits and deliver the area code for the call's point of origin. AT&T's database would then verify that the call was from an area for which the subscriber had purchased service. The database would translate the number into a standard Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) ten-digit number, which was then routed over AT&T's network as a standard call. Using this system, AT&T could complete all Toll-Free service provisioning from a centralized location. This enabled AT&T to offer customized TFNs and other features that gave the service subscriber some control over how and where calls were routed through the network.
Under the AT&T divestiture Plan of Reorganization and in implementing the changes required by the Modified Final Judgment (MFJ), AT&T retained the rights to its CCIS network and the NSS database system. However, AT&T made provisions for the Bell Operating Companies (BOCs) to lease database capacity in order to allow the BOCs to offer their own Intra Local Access and Transport Area (IntraLATA) Toll-Free service. The plan did not allow the BOCs to utilize the NSS in order to provide exchange access services to other ICs.
In 1983, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion asking the District Court to grant the BOCs access to AT&T's CCIS and NSS database system in order to provide access services to other ICs.
In January 1985, the District Court denied the DOJ's motion, but allowed the BOCs to implement a modified version of a pre-1982 serving arrangement for an interim period until the BOCs could develop their own Toll-Free database system. This interim service was commonly referred to as the "NXX Plan". This service used the first 6 digits of the TFN (800-NXX) to identify the appropriate carrier. The North American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA) assigned individual NXX codes to carriers that participated in this arrangement.
A major limitation of the 6-digit screening technique was that Toll-Free service subscribers had to change TFNs in order to change service providers. This limitation arose because specific NXX codes were assigned to a single carrier. Changing service carriers generated additional costs for the Toll-Free service subscriber and discouraged them from changing carriers. These costs included new advertising, changes to documentation and forms, and potential loss of business due to customer familiarity with the current TFN. The six-digit screening arrangement also limited the selection of TFNs that a carrier could offer its customers.
On July 12, 1985, the Bell Atlantic Telephone Companies filed a petition asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to initiate a rulemaking proceeding regarding the provision of interim Toll-Free access. The rulemaking proceeding also included the need for policies and/or rules for the long-term obligations of exchange carriers under the Communications Act in providing Toll-Free service access to the ICs so that there could be a single, nationwide form of Toll-Free access.
On January 14, 1986, the FCC tentatively concluded that the BOCs should be jointly responsible for providing Toll-Free database service for all ICs.
In 1989, an FCC order (as part of Docket 86-10) found that a national database system for Toll-Free access would offer both advantages and disadvantages as compared with the NXX Plan access solution. The major advantage of the national database system was that it would enable TFN portability and thus facilitate competition since a customer could change carriers without changing numbers. Its drawback was that it would increase access time for Toll-Free calls until Signaling System 7 (SS7) deployment became more extensive.
Following a review of the petitions for reconsideration and several developments involving SS7 deployment, on August 1, 1991, the FCC adopted a comprehensive order, which mandated the implementation of Toll-Free database access by March 4, 1993. A subsequent FCC order moved the actual cutover date to May 1, 1993.
On July 10, 1992, Sprint requested the FCC make a formal declaration that the administrator of the Help Desk had the authority to make Toll-Free traffic routing and Responsible Organization (Resp Org) changes to database records if such changes involved a carrier other than the carrier serving as Resp Org. On March 11, 1993, the FCC released an order, which authorized the administrator of the Help Desk to make Resp Org changes, based on proper written authorization by users however the FCC did not authorize the Help Desk to make Toll-Free traffic routing changes.
On February 10, 1993, the FCC released an order, which declared access to the Toll-Free database by Resp Orgs to be a Title II common carrier service and required the BOCs to file a tariff for Toll-Free database access by March 5, 1993. The effective date of the tariff was May 1, 1993. The order also set forth that any entity that met appropriate financial and technical eligibility requirements could serve as the Resp Org for a TFN at the customer's request. With this provision, users could serve as their own Resp Org or they could use an IC, a LEC, or a third party as a Resp Org.
On May 1, 1993, the management and assignment of TFNs transitioned from the interim 800 NXX Plan to a 10 digit management plan in the national 800 Service Management System (SMS/800).
In 1994, the industry realized that the national database of TFNs was running out of available TFNs. The rate at which new TFNs were being assigned was significantly higher than had been previously projected.
August 1994, the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA) requested the Industry Numbering Committee (INC) to consider the rapid depletion of numbers and determine what, if any, corresponding actions should be taken. The INC accepted the request and began evaluating the situation. Initial review indicated that the numbering resource would exhaust sometime between late 1995 and early 1996. The INC determined additional numbering resources would be needed in order to meet future demand for Toll-Free service.
On January 25, 1995, INC designated the 888 Numbering Plan Area (NPA) code as the next area code for use in providing Toll-Free service. The INC also reserved the remaining 8XX (877, 866, ..., 822) area codes for future Toll-Free services.
On June 9, 1995, the FCC released an order that suspended the processing of new applications to become Responsible Organizations (Resp Orgs). The order was intended as a conservation measure to address the anticipated exhaust of the TFN resource.
On June 13, 1995, the FCC ordered the rationing of the remaining available TFNs. The rationing plan has been modified by subsequent orders.
On October 5, 1995, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Toll-Free access codes. The NPRM sought comments to: "promote the efficient use of TFNs; (2) foster the fair and equitable reservation and distribution of TFNs; (3) smooth the transition period preceding introduction of a new Toll-Free code; (4) guard against warehousing of TFNs; and (5) determine how Toll-Free vanity numbers should be treated."
On December 7, 1995, the FCC released an order, effective December 14, 1995, which allowed the processing of new applications to become Resp Orgs to resume.
On January 25, 1996, the FCC released an order as part of Docket 95-155. The order directed that the Platform be opened for early reservation of 888 numbers on February 10, 1996.
On March 1, 1996, the network began processing 888 calls.
On May 10, 1996, the FCC issued a letter order, which removed the allocations for 800 number reservations. Allocations for 888 number reservations were removed as well in an Order date release April 11, 1997.
On September 29, 1997, as the utilization of the 888 numbering resource approached exhaust, the FCC again implemented controls on the reservation of TFNs. This conservation plan was lifted with the opening of the 877 code on April 5, 1998.
On July 29, 2000, the 866 code was opened.
In 2008, the BOCs established SMS/800, Inc., a non-profit membership corporation organized in the District of Columbia. SMS/800, Inc. was established to manage the Platform services.
In 2010, the 855 code was opened with limits being placed on the number of TFNs that could be reserved each day during the first month after the 855 code was opened.
On November 1, 2013, pursuant to an FCC Order, SMS/800, Inc. became the Toll-Free neutral administrator and assumed tariffing authority and responsibility for the Platform services. As part of the FCC Order, the FCC also approved a plan to change the membership and governance structure of SMS/800, Inc. to be more representative of the community of Toll-Free users and make other changes to the administration of the Platform.
On December 7, 2013, the 844 code was opened.
On July 1, 2015, SMS/800, Inc. launched the TSS Registry for top-level routing data for Toll-Free messaging and multimedia services. The TSS Registry is the authoritative registry for text enabled TFNs and provides a single platform for TFNs to be validated and authorized for text enablement.
On October 27, 2015, SMS/800, Inc. changed its name to Somos, Inc.
On February 15, 2016, the TFNRegistry™ Functions Tariff was updated to include the mandate for the use of the Resp Org Change (ROC) System on the Somos Portal Website (portal.somos.com) by all Resp Orgs beginning June 30, 2017.
In April 2016, Somos launched the Enhanced Interface. Somos is committed to supporting the future growth of Toll-Free by not only providing our customers with a single, credible and secure source for TFNs, but also with the best possible user experience. The Enhanced was an incremental enhancement to the Platform. It was created to quickly deliver value to our Responsible Organizations (Resp Orgs) by eliminating their pain points and providing new features and functionalities.
On June 3, 2017, the 833 code was opened.
On June 28, 2017, Somos successfully launched RouteLink®. RouteLink is a service that provides direct access to authoritative Toll-Free routing data. Subscribers to this service receive a local copy of the Toll-Free routing data from the Platform, which is constantly updated in near-real-time through an Application Programming Interface (API) connection.
As of June 30, 2017, the use of the Resp Org Change (ROC) System became mandated by the TFNRegistry™ Functions Tariff which is on file with the FCC. The ROC System enables Resp Orgs to administer TFN ports and it stores the Letter of Agency (LOA) along with supporting documentation in a centralized location. The ROC System also standardizes the process of ROC management, submission and processing of the change requests as well as provides access to the history of the change transactions and supporting documentation. Additionally, it is accessible only by registered users of the Somos Portal Website (portal.somos.com) for the ROC System. Access to the ROC System is managed by the Resp Org’s Primary Contact and/or Company Administrator.
On July 10, 2017, Somos successfully launched the TFNRegistry™ (formerly known as the SMS/800 TFNRegistry®) User Interface (UI) (tfnregistry.somos.com) and the Application Programming Interface (API) in an effort to improve system capabilities and enhance user experience leveraging the best available technology. The TFNRegistry UI and the API was developed as a part of Somos' efforts to improve system capabilities and enhance the user experience in the following ways:
- Access is available on the public internet without the need for a secure Network Connection with Somos while keeping the TFN data secure.
- Compatible on most common devices including PCs, Notebooks, Tablets, and Smartphones. Also, it is certified to work on multiple browsers including Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox.
- New feature availability.
On June 30, 2018, the Enhanced Interface was successfully decommissioned as its features and functionalities were made available for users in the TFNRegistry UI.
On September 27, 2018, the FCC approved its Report and Order on Toll-Free Assignment Modernization (FCC 18-137A1). In the Report and Order, the FCC requires Somos, the Toll-Free Number Administrator, to conduct a single round, sealed bid Vickery auction for the 17,000+ “mutually exclusive” TFNs that were set aside in the 833 pre-code opening period in 2017.
On October 31, 2018, the 3270 Interface was successfully decommissioned as its features and functionalities were made available for users in the TFNRegistry UI or APIs.
On December 13, 2018, the FCC released a Second Report and Order on Advanced Methods to Target and Eliminate Unlawful Robocalls (FCC-18-177A1). In the Reassigned Numbers Order, the FCC established a single, comprehensive Reassigned Numbers Database (RND) (reassigned.us) to address the problem of unwanted calls to consumers with numbers reassigned from a previous consumer. As the Toll-Free Number Administrator, Somos will provide the RND with reassigned Toll-Free Number data.
On June 24, 2019, Somos successfully completed its migration of the TFNRegistry UI and the TFNRegistry API from a mainframe system to a cloud-based system to help improve efficiencies and performance.
On October 7, 2019, Somos kicked off the first ever TFN auction to distribute highly sought-after TFNs in the 833 area code. Organizations and individuals interested in participating in the auction had the opportunity to register and submit an application to bid.
On October 15, 2019, Somos opened the Beta period for a centralized repository for Toll-Free Caller ID information, TFNIdentity®. Responsible Organizations can access TFNIdentity to store Caller Name information (frequently referred to as CNAM) so that it can be displayed when a call is received from a TFN.
On December 17, 2019, approved applicants of the 833 TFN auction participated in a single round auction where the winner with the highest bid paid the price of the second highest bid (a Vickery Auction).
On January 17, 2020, the AuctionRegistry™ became available within the TFNRegistry and was developed by Somos to capture ownership information for all purchased TFNs during the October 7, 2020 auction of TFNs in the 833 area code. The auctioned TFNs consisted of the 17,000+ “mutually exclusive” TFNs that were set aside in the 833 pre-code opening period in 2017.
On February 13, 2020, TFNIdentity became generally available for all Resp Orgs to manage their TFN CNAM information.
On March 20, 2020, the FCC announced a new mandate that impacted all disconnected numbers – including disconnected TFNs. TFNs may not go into a "Spare" status until forty-five (45) days after their date of disconnection. Please Note: The 4-month maximum time before automatically returning to spare has not changed. This mandate was created in order to aid in reducing robocalls. The FCC advised that the enforcement of the new mandate would begin in the second quarter of 2020.
On March 25, 2020, Somos launched TFNMarketplace™, the only secondary market platform featuring TFNs that have been verified and vetted through the TFNRegistry. The TFNMarketplace allows owners to sell their 833 TFNs they one during the 833 Auction with confidence.
In May of 2020, Somos made IP Routing available for TFNs in the TFNRegistry. IP Routing is a more agile approach to Toll-Free call routing that provides decisive data and supports the transfer of both IP and TDM call traffic on TFNs.
On December 10, 2020, Somos partnered with the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) Industry Standards Group, the SIP Forum and IP-NNI Task Force to develop the recently published "ATIS Standard on TFNs in the SHAKEN Framework" (ATIS-1000093), a joint standards guide document. The document is available to all interested parties free of charge on the ATIS website (atis.org).
On April 20, 2021, Somos successfully completed a migration from Somos’ brick-and-mortar Data Center to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. This migration will help maximize performance and efficiencies while contributing to the overall future and health of the Toll-Free industry.
On this day, Somos also announced the general availability of RealNumber® Right to Use (RTU). RTU is a solution that supplies a valuable tool that can be leveraged to provide confirmation of a number’s right to use aligned with the FCC’s STIR/SHAKEN framework.
On June 1, 2021, Somos announced the general availability of RealNumber® Do Not Originate (DNO). DNO is a valuable tool that can be leveraged to help identify the fraudulent use via spoofing of businesses’ inbound TFNs.
On June 30, 2021, the FCC STIR/SHAKEN mandate came into effect.
On September 30, 2021, the Platform's Web Based Access (WBA) and Mechanized Generic Interface (MGI) were successfully decommissioned as their features and functionalities were made available for users in the TFNRegistry UI and API. These interfaces were developed in an effort to improve system capabilities and enhance user experience leveraging the best available technology.
On October 5, 2021, Somos announced the addition of over 4 billion local numbers to the RealNumber® Do Not Originate (DNO) data set to help combat illegal spoofing of numbers that should never originate calls.