500 & 533 Numbers (re: Cutting the Cord) [Telecom]

With the US cellphone paradigm where the cellphone owner user pays

> for the airtime" on incoming calls, perhaps there needs to be an > additional option: > > Why don't US cellphone providers have a service where you get an > additional incoming number (to the same cellphone) but the caller > pays for the "airtime" (like it is done in many other countries)?

This subject, "Calling Party Pays (Airtime)" to call a US or Canada cellphone, has been discussed numerous times in Telecom Digest over the years, and the same things result, as Garrett Wollman and John Levine mention in their replies. Many payphones (for those who still use them, if you can find ones -- and in working order), business PBX systems, and even other cellular systems -- would mostly restrict access to such "caller-pays" "area" codes or office codes. "Caller Pays" would be thought of very much like pay-per-call 900 and 976. And since wireless is mostly unregulated (well, the FCC has some oversight over spectrum, and the government does use the cellcos to collect more taxes), the abuse with any "caller pays" would be rampant, exactly like what happened with 900 and 976 and other similar codes.

John Levine replied:

There have been caller-pays experiments over the years in the US, > all of which were complete failures, because the number of people > who think that they are so important that other people will pay > extra to talk to them vastly exceeds the number who actually are. > > The North American numbering plan doesn't have room to add a lot of > special area codes for caller-pays mobile, but we have the 500 and > 533 codes assigned to "personal communication services" which are > allowed to charge extra to the caller. Probably not by coincidence, > most of the 500-NXX prefixes are assigned to Verizon, Cingular (AT&T) > and Sprint. Nonetheless, I have never seen a 500 number in use. > Has anyone else?

When 500 first started in the mid-1990s, there were customers with their own 500 numbers. The function was rather "loosely defined" by the North American teleom standards bodies, simply referred to as "Personal Communications Services". The intent was to allow a customer to have a "single personal number" which you could forward to your home phone when you were at home, your wireless phone while in transit, the landline phone of your friend or family members when visiting them, the hotel room phone if travelling, your work phone when at work, etc. It sound "nice" especially in 1960s/70s/80s usage of the phone, when it was rare to even have a built-in "Mannix" style car-phone (IMTS). But now people just use their pocket cellphones, and roam all over the US with their "original" area codes associated with the phone, whether at home, away at school, away at government (DC, state capitals), on vacation or permanent move, etc. And since more people are using cellphones with "unlimited" plans (or huge buckets of minutes with rollover minutes) on a "nationwide" basis, nobody thinks twice about it!

But during the mid-1990s, AT&T and MCI did offer 500 "personal numbers" and there was a limited customer base. You can go through the archives of this Digest (1995, 1996, 1997) and find sig-lines of some regular participants which include their 500 numbers.

But there was a lot of confusion with 500. Nobody really knew how much they would be charged. If you couldn't dial it from work or some other restricted line, or wouldn't dial a 500 number from a phone that wasn't your own home phone (if the line could dial-out to 500), and wanted to use your calling card to bill the call, a call to an AT&T 500 number could be billed to an AT&T calling card, but couldn't be billed to anyone else's card (the other carriers wouldn't allow calls to an AT&T

500 number to be charged to their cards). And vice-versa regarding MCI based 500 numbers -- only MCI-issued cards could be used to bill a call to an MCI 500 number.

Also, charges to 500 numbers, even if to a 500 number of a carrier you otherwise had an account with, were NOT billed the same as calls to "POTS" numbers. You did NOT get your discounts that you would on calls to regular numbers.

AND... there WAS rampant abuse. Since there really wasn't much truly descriptive and specified in telephone industry standards documentation and regulatory tariffs regarding 500 numbers, it was fast becoming another 900 or 976 pay-per-call "scam", with sleazy companies providing

500 numbers as "another 900" with outrageous rates, etc.

By the late 1990s, AT&T and MCI pulled the plug on their 500 servies, leaving a handful of sleaze companies out there (some of them are still around with 500).

AT&T and some of the larger companies had also pulled the plug on their

900 services a few years later. AT&T's original 900 service of the 1970s was not a "pay-per-call" service, but at the time was a special "choke" area code, for "mass calling" situations. Calls would be billed at normal tariffed rates, NOT expensive pay-per-call charges. A customer with a 900 number back then could even have their 900 number be reverse charged back to the 900 number holder, as was done with the very first (March 1977) radio call-in special with then-president Carter. AT&T, the White House, and CBS Radio set up the 900-242-1611 number free to the calling party. I don't know who "ate" the bill on that one, but the caller did not pay for their calls to that Jimmy Carter March 1977 900 radio call-in number.

Anyway, my understanding is that those huge numbers of 500-NXX codes assigned to Verizon Wireless and ATat&tT mobility (cingular) is supposed to be for OnStar services, which must use satellite services of VZ and ATat&tT.

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BTW, at this moment, there are still no 533-NXX-xxxx numbers -- only

500-nxx-xxxx numbers. However, NeuStar (NANPA) is about to begin assigning 533-NXX office codes before the end of this year, 2009, as 500 is close to running out of NXX codes.
By the way, even though the US is mobile pays, most US customers don't > care about the per minute cost because we have bundles that include > more minutes than we ever use. The actual per-minute cost that US > users pay is among the lowest in the world if you add in the real cost > to the callers of "free" incoming calls. (Yes, I know that in some > caller-pays countries there are bundles that include mobile-to-mobile > minutes.) We also have the ability to port numbers between mobile and > landline, which you'll never see outside North America, so we can drop > your landline, keep your number, and your callers don't notice > anything changed.

One other thing to think of if the US and Canada were to ever radically push a "caller-pays airtime" special area code (500, 533) for cellphones is that callers in other parts of the world would see the charges for calls to those +1-500/533 numbers be triple or even four-times that of charges for calls to "POTS" numbers in the US and Canada. And these calls would NOT be included in any international discount plan. I think that is the case today for overseas-originated calls to existing 500 numbers (or the limited use of 500 numbers in the mid-1990s). It's the same as if I were to call someone's UK, Australia, etc. cellphone or "special" or "personal" numbers in other countries (and the UK has quite a hodge-podge of them, which haunt not only callers from other countries but also domestic callers who are simply trying to call their own UK government "health care" 0870-based numbers!). I have international discount plans with my US-based carriers. However, calls to cellphones and "special" (personal) numbers in other countries are billed to me at FULL (and EXPENSIVE) rates, which are even higher than the regular tariffed charges to "POTS" numbers in those countries! I think that even Vonage and other VoIP companies also don't give their discounted rates or packages on calls to cellphone area codes or special/premium/ personal area codes in those other countries!!!

SO, be careful for what you ask for!


Reply to
Anthony Bellanga
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My first name is Wally. If memory serves me correctly I signed up for

1-500-GO WALLY.

It was useless. ;-)

Reply to
Sam Spade

You suddenly bring to my mind UUnet's old 900 BBS number,

1-900-GET-SRCS, for dialing in to their archive of Unix utility programs.

Thanks for the memory -- the only $0.25/minute 900 number I was ever aware of (all others far more costly).

Cheers, -- tlvp

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