ICB Toll Free (800/888) News by: Judith Oppenheimer, Publisher, ICB Toll Free (800/888) News
Tuesday March 31 1998 at 11:27:41 PM EST


In one fell swoop, the Federal Communications Commission has dismissed five Congressional leaders, the Small Business Administration, and legions of commercial users of toll free service.

Washington, D.C. U.S. - April 1, 1998 (ICB TOLL FREE NEWS) In a rambling three-page letter dated March 30, 1998, Chairman William Kennard of the Federal Communications Commission responded to a letter received from Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, on toll free issues.

Senator Leahy wrote to Chairman Kennard on March 27 outlining his concerns with the potential problems with the rollout of the 877 toll free access code.

"The proposed rollout threatens to harm businesses which have invested heavily in toll free 800 service access codes," Senator Leahy wrote. "I am concerned that the assignment of new 877 codes will adversely impact businesses which already have the same numbers attached to the 800 code... Implementation of the 877 code also stands to erode trademarks and cause much consumer confusion. The U.S. Small Business Administration has requested a limited delay in the rollout of the codes so that these issues can be addressed before they become a problem."

The Chairman's response reflects an incredible ignorance of -- and indifference toward -- the substantive issues facing the toll free industry: creating fair and equitable number distribution among both service providers and service users; correcting the misdial and trademark-confusion impacts on the public interest; and vastly improving the battered resource (mis)management system.

The Chairman recognizes that alternative proposals "seek to change not only the Commission's rules on numbering administration, but also the way in which the industry has assigned numbers for over 30 years."

Unfortunately, all lucidity ends there, as Chairman Kennard concludes that is cause for dismissal, rather than improvement.

Appearing to reach for straws, he splits hairs over the timing, rather than substance, of various petitions filed with the FCC, and finally resorts to rehashing the very-tired carrier mantra that we're facing an immediate exhaustion of toll free numbers, even though concrete proof to the contrary has been submitted by numerous petitioners, including Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Perhaps Chairman Kennard is choosing expedience over relevance. Perhaps the large RespOrgs are applying some inordinate pressure to toe the . party. line. We can only speculate.

What we do know, is that Kennard does not say that the FCC has addressed, much less resolved, the technical market entry barriers raised by the Small Business Administration's comments, i.e. allocation of numbers to small RespOrgs -- nor does he address the disparity problem of not enough data modem ports for dial up access. "These two issues are enough for a delay," says, S. Jenell Trigg, Asst. Chief Counsel for Telecommunications, Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration. "The Commission has a statutory mandate to identify and eliminate market entry barriers for small telecommunications companies under Section 257 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996."

"The Office of Advocacy hopes that the Commission will have taken sufficient measures to eliminate these market entry barriers in its decision to roll out 877. If the Commission has not addressed these issues, the Commission will have done a disservice to small RespOrgs and their subscribers - certainly not a true "fair and equitable" allocation of numbers. It is most unfortunate that small businesses will again have been sacrificed for the benefit of larger, more powerful businesses..

Well, consider the disservice done, to small RespOrgs, and all commercial users of toll free service.

By end of business on March 31, it was announced that the FCC had issued its latest Order in CC Docket No. 95-155, . FCC ADOPTS DECISION ON ASSIGNMENT OF TOLL FREE VANITY NUMBERS. , March 31, 1998, Report No. CC-98-7.

Determined, it seems, to raise regulatory dysfunctionality to new heights, the Order mandates that 800 subscribers with 888 set-asides get replication - right of first refusal to obtain the 888 number that matches their 800 number. But "in 877, assigning vanity numbers on a first-come, first-served basis ensures fair allocation of numbers by granting no class of subscribers a preference."

Despite overwhelming evidence presented to the FCC that large RespOrgs make up a class of subscribers with a preference over small RespOrgs; and that all RespOrgs make up a class of subscribers with preference over non-RespOrg subscribers, this Order insists that its current system constitutes first-come, first-serve, and determines that "vanity numbers in the new 877 toll free code and future toll free codes shall be assigned on this first-come, first-serve basis as each code is deployed..

The Commission asserts repeatedly that . assigning vanity numbers in 877 and future toll free codes on a first-come, first-serve basis will ensure fair allocation of numbers by granting no class of subscribers a preference... In addition a first-come, first-served process ensures an orderly allocation of toll free numbers because it avoids disputes among subscribers over who is entitled to a particular number..

However, . subscribers of certain vanity numbers in the 800 toll free code are granted the right of first refusal for a limited amount of corresponding vanity numbers in the 888 code that were set aside pending the Commission. s decision.. This, the Commission says, will also . further its goals of promoting the efficient, fair and orderly allocation of toll free numbers..

Explaining this discrepancy, the Commission says that . although 888 numbers are now in widespread use, [it is] concerned that consumers are still adjusting to the environment of multiple toll free codes. As a result, the problems of customer confusion, misdialing, and new toll free subscribers benefiting from the marketing efforts of 800 subscribers with corresponding vanity numbers are likely to be most serious in the case of the first post-800 toll free code..

Which, of course, won't be a problem in 877. Right.

The Commission declined to impose a fee in connection with the right of first refusal for the set aside 888 numbers. Set aside 888 vanity numbers will be available for assignment ninety days after 977 is deployed. If the subscriber to the corresponding 800 vanity number refrains from subscribing to the set aside 888 number, the 888 number will be made available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

It is unclear if the Order specifies if, or how, subscribers with 888 numbers in set-aside are to be notified by their RespOrgs of this ninety day window.

The Order notes . 877 is scheduled to be introduced on April 5, 1998..

And finally, attached to the Order is a rudimentary Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis, giving the Commission a carefully constructed appearance of compliance with the Small Business Administration.

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

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