Where Can I Sell My Toll-Free Number?

Business owners who have a memorable toll-free number control a highly valuable asset. Memorable phone numbers increase a brand’s memorability, increase inbound phone calls, and can turn any marketing campaign into a response-rate powerhouse.

That being said, situations do arise where a business owner might want to sell their phone number. Business owners move on or change their focus so that even a great existing number may no longer be the right fit.

sell toll free numberThe thought might also occur that such a valuable asset could be worth something to another business, at which point the desire to sell a toll-free number could strengthen.

After all, domain registrars such as GoDaddy allow people to list domains they control for sale; why should a toll-free phone number be any different? And if you decide you want to sell a toll-free number, where can you do so?

These are the questions we'll answer below.

Can I Sell My Toll-Free Number? What You Need to Know

Toll-free numbers are a carefully regulated resource. It's important to understand the background to those regulations before considering the sale of toll-free numbers.

Since the Telecom Act of 1996, they have been considered a public resource, which means they cannot be bought or sold by private third parties. Three rules, in particular, restrict the buying and selling of toll-free numbers. The three rules are as follows:

The Warehousing Rule

The FCC prohibits RespOrgs from reserving a toll-free number from the spare pool without an end-user. This rule prevents the entities responsible for managing toll-free numbers from unfairly withholding specific high-value numbers with the intent to sell them.

Related: What Is a RespOrg?The Hoarding Rule

The FCC also prohibits toll-free subscribers from hoarding numbers.

Hoarding is defined as the practice of reserving many toll-free numbers without the intent of using them for their own business purposes. Before the 1996 Telecom Act, hoarding was a common practice used explicitly by phone number brokers to hold onto the best numbers to sell them later at a premium price.

The Brokering Rule

In a similar vein to hoarding, the FCC prohibits the brokering - buying and selling - of toll-free phone numbers. Any entity caught selling a toll-free number for a fee can be punished by a fine or prison, regardless of the motivation.

law firm billboard advertWhen Can I Sell My Toll-Free Number?

Current rules prevent the sale of toll-free numbers under any circumstance. All that is permitted under the current regulations, in certain scenarios, is the transfer (or “porting”) of a toll-free number to another business.

Even then, this can only occur in the event of a company sale or other required transfer of the phone number. Otherwise, a toll-free number subscriber who no longer uses a particular toll-free number must allow the number to return to the spare number pool.

Selling a toll-free phone number could cost you if the FCC decides to take action. This precise scenario occurred in the mid-2000’s, when a man who attempted to sell a vanity 800 number was fined tens of thousands of dollars. Although his case made big waves in the telecom industry, to date he is the only person to have faced significant fines for attempting to sell a toll-free number. This is also the most well-known case. It is used by regulatory agencies as a warning to other would-be offenders.

The crucial point is that while the rules prohibit the sale of toll-free numbers, sales do occur from time to time.

What prevents these sales from violating the brokering rule is that the phone number is not the central part of the transaction. Major brands whose name is a toll-free number can sell their company, including the trademark and the business name, and include the number as a part of the package.

Such scenarios arise - and are permitted - precisely because so many companies use toll-free numbers as part of their branding strategy.

toll-free-number-marketProposed Rule Changes for Toll-Free Numbers

The primary focus of the proposed rule change is to make the assignment of the newly released 833 prefix numbers more equitable. The FCC proposes to create an auction system that would allow end users to bid on high-value numbers, thus giving all interested parties a chance to reserve a specific number.

This is a stark contrast to the “first come, first served” rule, which allows the first RespOrg to request a number to have it. The auction system will inevitably apply to all the other prefixes. As new or existing phone numbers become available in the SOMOS spare pool, they would pass into an auction to allow interested parties to bid on their assignment. The 833 number auction has various pros and cons, as we've previously explored.

The proposal also seeks to allow secondary markets for toll-free numbers.

Up to now, there has been a precedent set by the FCC that toll-free numbers are a public resource and cannot be sold. This is known as the Brokering Rule. However, the proposal notes that a significant market and demand exist for the buying and selling of high-value toll-free numbers. As part of their proposal, the FCC seeks to allow the re-assignment of toll-free numbers between end users for a fee and to eliminate the brokering rule to allow for a secondary market.

Read more about the proposed rule changes here.

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