History of 900-Numbers

Toll-free numbers have been around for decades, and most people have a few interesting stories about their experiences. They’re typically used by friends and loved ones to play a prank or sound a false alarm. The history of 900 nunmbers, or premium rate telephone numbers, is a bit more boring. We’re going to attempt to liven the discussion with a brief overview. Hopefully you’ll learn something.

What Are Toll Numbers?

Toll free 900 numbers allow your company to advertise a number that is free for your clients to call. These numbers can be diverted to any mobile phone, landline, or IP address. This service is very important if you want to maintain your customers and attract new potential customers to your business.


Toll numbers or 1-900 lines as they are commonly known in America, have been in existence for a long time now. In the early 1980s, AT&T was given a task of offering these numbers for use in situations where networks were trying to get the views of the public on how they think about certain matters. In the US, toll numbers were first tried out by the ABC network in an attempt to find what the people thought about the just concluded presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. As it were, the exercise was a success and the use of toll numbers picked from there.

It is wise to note that there are no clear records to prove or show how these numbers were first used. Some records show that toll numbers were first used in 1977 after the Carter won the presidency, where the members of the public were given an opportunity to call in and to pitch questions to the president. The official stand is that the earlier use of these numbers were ad-hoc and the restructuring done by the AT&T Company, which in 80s officially flagged off toll numbers. During this time, the normal rate per call was $50,and the profits were shared between the service provider and the company drawing callers in on various issues.


In 1980, toll free 900 numbers were restructured to include area codes, which are still in place today. The charges of phone calls have really changed over time, but the call rate fluctuates depending on the amount of time the caller stays on the line.

It is also important to note that during the early stages of this technology, there were fewer restrictions on who could use these numbers. This ended in 1989 when a child called one of these numbers and charged $17,000 to his parents.

The technology was open for use, and up to the late 1980s, anyone who wanted to offer the service was allowed and made a lot of money providing the services. This brought about unfair competition as the industry was now congested. The government was pressured to do something to streamline the industry and limit the use of this technology.

In an attempt to limit the use of this technology and streamline the industry, AT&T come up with a system in 1985 where companies wishing to use the technology were paid commissions from the profits received from the phone calls. Unfortunately, AT&T system failed two years later and they had to come up with another way to limit the use of this technology. They come up with a plan where a company was given authority to set a premium rate but the rate should not exceed $2. The new system came with a lot of issues, the major one being it could not allow multi-programming, thus limiting the interactive aspect of phone calls.

It is clear that the early development of toll free 900 numbers was based on polls and shows, however, as time went by, many companies identify a gap in the industry that they decided to explore. The adult entertainment was the first industry to throw a punch when they encouraged the public to take advantage of this technology to promote adult sexual communication.The modern dating chat lines that we have today were as a result of this initiative. Next in line were financial institutions such as banks and stock markets. In the year 1991, there were major trends that saw the collapse of the usage of premium rate numbers such as the commercialization of pay-per-call services that made many people to accumulate huge phone bills because of some marketing tricks that used cartoons to make calls. This advert encouraged children to make unnecessary calls and thus raising phone calls bills.


Toll free 900 numbers have faced criticism and plenty of setbacks. After the launch of this service, several companies took advantage of unsuspecting users to hike the phone bills. There were many adverts that mislead children to make unnecessary phone calls. Many companies started offering this service making it difficult for the public to distinguish between scammers and legitimate companies. Today, the numbers are still in use,but the scale of use is not as it used to be two decades ago.

Modern Use

Nowadays, 800 and 900 numbers are not that common but they are used for a variety of purposes, and the top ones involve sports, weather, gambling, phone dating (see Chatline Connect for more details), voting, and interactions between celebrities and their fans.

The Bottom Line

Toll free 900 numbers was founded on a solid basis,however, the use and misuse of these numbers made many people to dislike it. The key players in this industry were more concerned about making money to a point where they forgot what the public really wants. When they saw that the industry was collapsing and the public was right all along, the damage was already done and it was too late for them to restructure it again. This is why toll numbers are not popular nowadays. The internet has also played a major role in the diminishing of these numbers. Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,Instagram, etc. have also contributed greatly to the diminishing of the toll free 900 numbers.