Toll-Free Numbers in the North American Numbering Plan

Toll-Free Numbers in the North American Numbering Plan

In the United States of America, Canada, and other countries that participate in the North American Numbering Plan, a toll-free number has one of the area codes 800, 833, 844, 855, 866, 877, and 888.

The 822 area code expects to be used in the future, followed by 880-887, then 889—however, 811 reserves as a three-digit number for various other purposes—additionally, 899 is secure as a member of the x9x series for future numbering plan extensions.

Calls to these numbers are accessible to the caller if dialled from landlines but may incur charges for mobile phone airtime.


Most of the United States and Canada use a flat rate structure for local calls, which incur no cost per call for residential subscribers. Since regulators America North had allowed for a long time as long-distance calls had an artificially high price to pay artificially low tariffs for local service, subscribers tend to make calls rare Toll times and keep them deliberately brief. [ citation required ]

Some companies, eager to sell their products to buyers outside the local calling area, we’re willing to accept collect calls or install special services, such as Zenith number service, where they paid the cost of receiving telephone inquiries. Initially, all these calls should complete by the operator of the switchboard.

North American Numbering Plan

The first automated toll-free numbers assign with the 800 area code, created as Incoming Wide Area Telephone Service (InWATS) in 1966 (within the US state) and 1967 (interstate). These ended in unique fixed rate trunks that would accept calls from a specific calling area with no limit or with an exact maximum number of hours per month.

Call billing was not itemized, and the expensive fixed-rate line was only financially available to large corporations and government agencies. Typically, a service provider offered various zones, each costing more than the smaller ones, but added progressively larger areas from which would accept calls for a customer.

In the early 1980s, Bell Labs received a patent for what became AT & T’s “Advanced 800 Service,” a computer-controlled system in which any toll-free number could point to any destination number, such as a number. Small business location rather than a unique number. InWATS and an itemized bill generated only for calls that the business received. By breaking the link between the number’s interchange prefix and geographic location, this system opened up opportunities for personalized number advertising, an advantage in media such as commercial radio, where numbers must be memorable.

The toll-free long-distance market was opened to competition after 1986 and instituted a RespOrg system in 1993 to provide toll-free portability between rival operators using the SMS / 800 database. The open match also ended the local, long-distance service subsidy pattern, reducing per-minute charges to levels any business could afford to take orders using an 800 number.

Initially, isolated 800 services between the US and Canada, but in 1984, an agreement between the carriers of the two countries allowed the numbers for each country to be accessible to the other; 800 service providers were able to add zones to cover the expanded areas that could offer. The advent of the Advanced 800 service meant that numbers limited initially for use in Canada became available to US customers and vice versa.


The original 800 code ran for more than thirty years before its 7.8 million possible numbers ran out, but the new free area codes are selling out at an ever-increasing rate, both because of the more widespread use of numbers. By voice over IP, such as by pocket pagers. Residential and small business, and general abuse by RespOrgs and subscribers that store numbers for use in marketing erroneous dialling, monitoring response for individual ads (each ad for each customer receives a different toll-free number) or for sale, lease, or sharing. Selling brokerage numbers is illegal, but renting a number or part of a number circumvents these regulations, as FCC enforcement is sporadic or minimal. 

Some geographic area codes are similar to toll-free codes, for example, 801, 818, 860. Scammers have exploited those similarities in international locations that can directly deal with what appears to be national area codes, including 809, 829 and 849, which are official prefixes for the Dominican Republic and 876, which are official prefixes for the Dominican Republic, is the area code for Jamaica. Toll-free numbers are sometimes confused with 900 numbers, for which the phone company bills callers at rates much higher than long-distance rates for services such as recorded information or live chat.

These toll-free numbers can typically be called from any phone in Canada or the US, although the owner (and sometimes the provider) may restrict their use. Sometimes they accept calls only from Canada, the US, or even from specific states or provinces. Some are not accessible from public telephones. Calls from payphones charge the toll-free owner an additional fee in the US as mandated by the FCC. Although toll-free numbers are not accessible internationally, many phone services call through the US, and in this case, toll-free numbers are available. Examples of these services are the MCI Worldphone international calling card and any US-based Internet telephony gateway.

US toll-free numbers can dial from many countries (such as the UK), but the caller first receives a recorded announcement that the call is not free. In many operators, the cost of calling a “toll-free” number can be higher than that of reaching an average number.

US toll-free numbers can be accessed from some other countries (such as Mexico) on a paid basis by replacing 800 with 880, 888 with 881, and 877 with 882. So, to call 1-800- xxx-yyyy from a country outside of your free coverage area, you can dial 1-880-xxx-yyyy. It is no longer valid; area codes 880, 844, 881, and 882 have to reclaim for future use. 

Additionally, some IP telephony services can access US toll-free numbers at no charge, regardless of the caller’s location.

Operator handling

In the United States, both exchange operators (IXC), such as Sprint, AT&T Inc., and Verizon, and local exchange operators (LEC), such as Verizon and AT&T, offer free services. The way a toll-free number handles depends on whether it is a national or inter-exchange call. Most countries divide into exchanges, and within each business, a local telephone company takes all telephone services. Interexchange calls, which do not leave the individual region, would be handled by the respective local telephone company. Calls that cross the US LATA borders or originate in one country and end in another call inter-exchange calls.

toll-free number

The format of the toll-free number is called a non-geographic number, in contrast to phone numbers associated with geographic households. (Since the advent of cell phones and voice over IP, homes can have any area code in the US, but it is still geographic in the sense that calls from that area code are considered local, but the recipient can be physically anywhere). In the latter case, can determine an approximate location of the caller from the area code (for example, New York or London). Instead, the toll-free numbers could physically locate anywhere in the world.

When a toll-free number dials, the telephone company must determine the actual physical destination, which accomplishes by using the intelligent network capabilities built into the network. In the simplest case, the toll-free number translates into a regular geographic number, which then routes by the telephone exchange in the usual way. More complicated issues may apply special routing rules in addition, such as routing based on time of day.

Toll-free numbers are usually country-specific. Canadian numbers are an exception, as they drew from the same SMS / 800 pool as other countries in the North American Numbering Plan; the universal international toll-free number +800 is an exception as they work with various country codes. The arbitrary distinctions between the local exchange operator/exchange operator, interstate and the LATA structure are artificial regulatory constructs of the US that have no direct parallels in Canada or any other nation.

Routing in the US

IXCs generally handle the traffic that crosses the Local Access and Transportation Area (LATA). A LATA is a geographic area within the US that delimits the edges of the LEC. LECs can provide local transportation within LATAs. When customers decide to use the free service, they assign a Responsible Organization (RespOrg) to own and maintain that number. The RespOrg can be the IXC that will provide the most accessible services or an independent RespOrg. 

When a toll-free number dials, the LEC analyzes and processes each digit. The toll-free call is identified as such by the service switching point (SSP). The SSP is responsible for sending call information to the service control point (SCP), routing the request through at least one signal transfer point (STP) in the Signaling System 7 (SS7) network. SS7 is an out-of-band digital method of transmitting signalling (call control) information on the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The SS7 network is a packet-switched network that carries signalling data (configuration and disconnection of the call and services) separate from the circuit-switched bearer network (the payload of the telephone call) in the AIN services network.

ACCORDING TO THE CUSTOMER’S CHOICE, the LEC will determine to which IXC this number will be assigned. It can share Toll-free numbers between IXCs. A customer can do this for disaster recovery or to be able to negotiate a better price. For example, a customer can assign 50% of their traffic to Sprint and 50% to AT&T.

Once the LEC determines which IXC to send the call to, it forward to the IXCs’ point of presence (POP). The IXC SCP must now choose where to send the call. Once the final determination of where the call is supposed to go is complete, the call route to the subscriber’s trunks in a call centre or contact centre environment. The call generally answers using a telephone system known as an automated call distributor (ACD) or private branch exchange (PBX).

Post-call routing can be done in many ways, from simple to complex, depending on the needs of the toll-free number owner. Some of the available options are:

Routing by the time of day (TOD)

An example of TOD routing usage would be a business with a call centre on the east coast and a call centre on the west coast. TOD routing would allow Follow the Sun routing. The East Coast hub opens first, and calls are sent to that destination earlier in the day. As the time changes across the country, the call centre in the west will offer expanded coverage. 

Routing by day of the week (DOW) or day of the year (DOY)

Depending on the day of the week and business practices, not all call centres operate 24/7. Some centres may be closed on weekends or holidays. DOW routing allows alternate routing for calls that arrive on specific days. DOY routing allows alternate routing on fixed holidays (for example, December 25).

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Exchange area code or routing

It can also route Free traffic depending on the location of the caller. For example, if a company has call centres in the North and the South, they may prefer their callers in the South to talk to people in the call centres in the South. Businesses may also want to take advantage of the difference between interstate rates and intrastate rates.

For example, the cost of a multi-state phone call may be less expensive than an intra-state call. As a result, the ability to route a call that originates in Michigan to a call centre outside of Michigan can save you a company substantial amounts of money.

Lower cost routing

Least-cost routing is a variant of exchange/area code routing in which a separate RespOrg sends calls through different operators based on which is the least expensive for a given point of origin. RespOrg is not the carrier. It could use A Canadian operator for Canadian calls and a US operator for US calls. A user with many incoming local voice-over IP numbers in multiple cities could convert free calls from a primary toll-free number to local calls in each city where they have a point of presence.

Percentage allocation routing

If a business has multiple call centres, the company may choose to route calls through multiple call centres on a percentage basis. For example, an airline with ten call centres may allocate 10% of all inbound traffic to each centre.

All-Trunks-Busy Routing

If a company’s backbone facilities can no longer handle incoming traffic at any given time, they can choose an alternative destination. It helps companies manage unexpected call volumes or during times of crisis.

No Answer Ring Routing

Some operators can return a call to the network if the call does not answer. It provides contingency routing for calls that ring and does not answer at the final destination.

Emergency or disaster routing

Businesses often have some type of disaster plan to deal with emergencies, both natural (e.g. floods, fires and earthquakes) and man-made (e.g. bomb threats). IXCs can provide alternative destinations in the event of any of these situations.

Withdraw and transfer / Transfer connect / Redirect agent

If a company uses an ACD to facilitate the transfer, the ACD will remain on the call as long as the parties are talking on the phone. The downside is that this consumes the capacity of the trunk in the ACD (or VRU). It called by various names, including hairpins or trombone. IXCs can allow a company to answer a call, provide a level of service, and then transfer the call to another location. These IXC functions provide a different level of transfer than that available through the ACD. There is generally a feature charge associated with this offer.

Toll-Free Numbers in the North American Numbering Plan
Toll-Free Numbers in the North American Numbering Plan

All of the above routing functions are sometimes called static routing functions. These routes are established and generally remain unchanged. If changes are required, a customer generally has several options for making changes. A customer can call the IXC or an independent RespOrg directly via a special toll-free number to make changes. Alternatively, a customer can make changes via direct network access through a dedicated terminal.

NANP Toll-Free Number Assignment

The toll-free numbers in the NANP are regulated by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 52 Section 101. The RespOrgs assign the numbers in the SMS / 800 database. SMS / 800, Inc. administers this database as Number Management and Service Center, as a subcontractor to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The SMS / 800 database and the RespOrg framework are used in the US and Canada. Some specific exchanges remain reserved or are assigned to specific North American Numbering Plan countries that do not extract numbers from the SMS / 800 group:

  • Some 800-xxx prefixes are reserved for the following areas:
  • 800-389 for the Bahamas
    • 800-534 for Barbados
    • 800-623 for Bermuda
    • 800-415, 800-751 and 800-907 for the Dominican Republic
    • 800-271 for Trinidad
    • 800-855 is reserved for services for users who are deaf or hard of hearing; These TTY-related numbers, operated by individual telephone companies, are assigned directly by the North American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA)
  • Several other prefixes, including 800-484, 800-703, 800-744, and 800-904, are reserved by the FCC.
  • 1-NPA-911 is prohibited as 9-1-1 is an emergency telephone number. (This is less restrictive than the rules prohibiting all three-digit N-1-1 codes as exchanges in all geographic area codes.)
  • 1-NPA-555 is reserved in each toll-free area code (except 1–800) for future information or directory assistance applications.


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  2. “844 Area Code: Location, Time Zone. Toll-Free? Scam? Who is calling?”. Hatch project. October 27, 2020. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  3. ^ ab “What is a toll-free number, and how does it work?”. Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
  4. “IP Phone Service and Toll-Free Numbers at AT&T Business”. AT&T Business. Retrieved on November 13, 2020.
  5. “Free and incoming services”. Verizon Business. Retrieved on November 13, 2020.
  6. “What is a CAN?”. Bandwidth Retrieved on November 13, 2020.
  7. Wolf, Jon. “Beginning”. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  8. “Configure Time of Day Routing”. Cisco. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  9. “800-855 line numbers”. Administration of the North American Numbering Plan. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  10. 5 Factors to Consider When Selecting Exterior Doors

Toll-Free Numbers in the North American Numbering Plan

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