New Toll-Free Number Might Cause Problem For Marketers

The Direct Marketing Association is rushing to contact toll-free marketers to secure their rights to the new 877 toll-free numbers being issued by the Federal Communications Commission starting on April 5. Because the FCC may not offer the right of first refusal, as they did when the 888 numbers were introduced back in early 1996, companies may have to compete against the 877 equivalent of their own vanity or branded number and lose business.

Toll-free marketers should contact their service providers immediately to start taking the necessary steps to acquire the rights to these new numbers, stated the DMA in a press release issued to its members.

The FCC has yet to make a final decision on whether or not to offer the right of first refusal this time around, but Tom Power, the legal advisor for the chairman of the FCC, said an order would be handed down soon.

“We will definitely have a decision one way or the other on the issue before April 5,” he said.

“It is unclear as to what they are going to do at this time,” said Jerry Cerasale , the senior vice president of government affairs for the DMA. “But that date isn't too far away and if they are going to rule against the right of first refusal then people with established toll-free numbers should take the proper steps to protect their numbers.”

The right of first refusal means that a company who owns a particular 1-800 number can either choose to buy the new 877 number and use both, or refuse it and not allow any one to use it.

The FCC is hesitant to offer companies the right of first refusal this time around. They believe that was the reason almost all of the 888 numbers disappeared in just two years.

“The issue here is exhaustion and we have to do what we can to conserve as many numbers as possible,” Power said.

“The FCC has told us it is concerned about the number of toll-free numbers that may be removed from the number pool if marketers are allowed to protect equivalent vanity numbers for all subsequent toll-free codes,” Cerasale said. “We don't want one person hoarding a bunch of numbers not allowing someone else to operate. But we are also looking to protect those who have already invested a lot of money into a 1-800 or 1-888 number from those who are looking to profit form their popularity.”

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