AP sheds light on using toll free numbers to capture business.
The Associated Press published a story this morning about companies that reserve mass quantities of toll free phone numbers, either to capture callers or sell them to businesses that might want to use them.
On the surface this is very similar to domain names. You register a domain name, capture visitors looking for something related to it, and then sell the domain name to a business that wants to use the domain.
Indeed, a number of big domainers were first attracted to toll free numbers, including Rick Schwartz. Another company that is big in domains is the focus of the AP piece — National A-1.
According to the story, a company with similar ownership as National A-1 called PrimeTel owns 1,667,000 of the 7.87 million active 800 numbers. Most of these, according to the article, link to a paid sex talk hotline.
PrimeTel snaps up a many of the numbers the moment they expire. It costs less than 10 cents a month for the company to reserve each number.
For toll free numbers there are rules against “hoarding”, although this appears to be limited to companies like PrimeTel (essentially a toll-free “registrar”) from reserving domains without a specific client use.
Another interesting thing is that the article says PrimeTel has numbers such as 1-800-Metallica and 1-800-Cadillac. Of course there’s no such thing as these toll free numbers — each number on the phone corresponds to multiple letters in the alphabet. So unlike domain names, you can’t argue that PrimeTel is infringing a trademark with any of its numbers.