ICB Toll Free (800/888) News by: Judith Oppenheimer, Publisher, ICB Toll Free (800/888) News
Wednesday May 21 1997 at 09:16:08 AM EDT

Congress Turns Deaf Ear on Nation's Largest Advertisers

888 Auction Remains on Congressional Agenda.

New York, NY US - New York, NY May 21, 1997 (ICB TOLL FREE NEWS) The advertising industry is protesting a provision in the Congressional budget that calls for a public auction of . vanity. toll-free telephone numbers. But their concerns are falling on deaf ears, as there appears to be little sentiment in Congress for removing the 888 auction provision from the 1998 budget.

Perhaps a recap of the events leading up to this debacle would help advertisers refocus their future efforts and alliances more productively.

- 1993 - Portability was enacted in May, transferring control of toll-free numbers from carriers to users. Carriers reacted by pronouncing these numbers a fragile resource which required their protection in the name of public interest. Concurrently, they aggressively promoted number . ownership. and number branding to major advertisers. Taking advantage of their exclusive access to the 800 database, they also filled their own 800 coffers to facilitate rolling out even more proprietary products and services.

- 1995 - Two years of telco industry resource mismanagement and policy pimping lead to the carrier-induced shortage of 800 numbers, further exacerbated by their foolish band-aid introduction of 888 as a co-brand, rather than a separate domain. This attempt to cover-up their 800 warehousing proved as short-sighted as their anti-user 800 industry guidelines. The users are, after all, their customers. And they are not happy.

- 1995-96 - Advertisers and other users deluged the FCC with complaints that 888 would compromise both the utility and brand value of 800. The FCC responded by offering to . set-aside. those 888. s in question until . right of first refusal. could be studied. The FCC also responded by micromanaging the toll-free industry, in a too-little too-late recognition of the industry. s resource-damaging conduct and policies.

- Finally, all the tumult woke up Congress, which erroneously saw a new revenue stream in these numbers. (Erroneously because Congress is clueless about the unique features and characteristics of toll-free numbers, and the degree to which they differ from other kinds of . spectrum. .) Nonetheless, the 888 auction was borne.

Unfortunately for advertisers, it. s specifically the 888 numbers in the FCC . set-aside. pool established to protect advertisers, that Congress wants to auction. Furthermore, based on the very self-serving, anti-user Toll Free Industry guideline policies constructed by the carriers to increase their own numbers control, the FCC Toll Free Order issued last month (see ICB Toll Free News Cover Story) moves that control from carrier voluntary guidelines, to Federal Government Law, further and more seriously eroding user interest in and control over toll-free numbers. And clearing a wider path for Congressional auction.

Hence today. s news is no surprise.

Daniel Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, representing some 5,000 national advertisers, has been lobbying against the auction, to no avail. . We don. t see anything wrong with paying a premium for vanity numbers, but a public auction will only artificially drive up prices beyond anything that. s reasonable,. Mr. Jaffe told the Washington Times.

Author/Correspondent's Profile: Judith Oppenheimer, Publisher, ICB Toll Free (800/888) News

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