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pay-per-call telephone service

Understanding Pay-Per-Call Telephone Service (900 Numbers)

Pay-per-call services provide phone users with a wide range of telecommunication services such as entertainment, audio information, and entertainment. Providers of these services use telephone numbers with area codes in the 900s, and the caller pays the telephone bill.

Typically, the charge for any call made to 900 telephone numbers is greater than the standard phone call charge and is automatically added to the carrier’s charge for the transmission of the call.

In 1993, the Federal Trade Commission adopted the 900 Number Rule, which made 900 the only prefix through which interstate pay-per-call telephone service could be offered. For local/intrastate pay-per-call services, providers can use other prefixes such as 560 or 976.

Before adopting the 900 Number Rule, a survey was conducted, and the results showed that a significant number of adult Americans did not know that they had to pay for calls to all numbers with the 900 prefix.

Operators of pay-per-call telephone service are known as information providers and determine the kind of information or product they offer, amount of money to charge for every phone call and whether the call will be assessed on a time-interval or per-call basis.  A majority of information providers use service bureaus to answer incoming calls.

Pay-Per-Call  (900 Numbers) Applications

Telephone numbers with a 900 prefix have a wide range of applications.  Since the caller pays an extra charge for dialing the number, some information providers have turned it into a lucrative business.

The first application of 900 numbers took place in 1980 following the Reagan-Carter fiercely contested presidential debate. At that time, viewers were given an opportunity to call one of the two 900 numbers provided to cast a vote for their preferred presidential candidate.

Today, television networks and small businesses have established different 900 numbers that allow people to call when seeking information on different products, services, or programs. Television networks airing music videos allow viewers to call specific 900 numbers to vote for their favorite music videos.

900 numbers are also being used in marketing and sales promotion campaigns because they are effective when it comes to establishing user involvement. However, in most cases, businesses only use 900 numbers to create an affinity between the consumer and a particular product. The campaigns are not designed to generate profit for the business.

The use of 900 numbers in marketing campaigns provides businesses with a wide range of exciting benefits. For lead generation agencies, 900 numbers provide better and highly qualified leads compared to toll-free numbers.

For instance, if a marketer wants to create a comprehensive database of qualified callers, it is relatively easy to obtain information using a prerecorded message or audio text feature of 900 calls.

When 900 numbers are used in TV advertising, they usually provide an outlook of the response rate within a couple of hours. Charges associated with 900 numbers may help a company recoup a small fraction of the promotional cost.

Pay-Per-Call Telephone Service Regulation

When dialing 900 numbers, most consumers didn’t know the actual call cost and the services/ information they would get for their money. As a result, some people started taking advantage of unsuspecting consumers to swindle them.

To help protect consumers, Congress passed the Telephone and Dispute Resolution Act in 1992. The Act was adopted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1993 to govern the pay-per-call services industry. The rules stipulated in the Act apply to information providers, carriers, and service bureaus.  They are not compulsory for intrastate services, although individual states can decide to adopt and enforce the rules.

The FTC rules governing the use of 900 numbers cover billing rights and responsibilities, advertising disclosures and prohibitions, and the preamble. The preamble refers to an introductory message that the must hear at the beginning of the call.

The message must mention the name of the information provider, the exact call cost, description of service, and a clear statement giving the caller a chance to hang up within three or five seconds to avoid incurring costs. However, the preamble is not required when a call will cost $2 or less or when the call is made between two data devices; no human is involved.

In TV advertising, FTC requires pay per call advertisers to disclose the call cost in both video and audio unless the advertisement is less than 15 seconds long or contains no audio information about the 900 number.

Advertising a 900 number service to children below 12 years is prohibited unless it is an educational service. Consumers have up to 60 days from the exact date of billing to identify errors in the amount billed and forward the information to the carrier. You can read more about complying with the 900 Number Rule here.

How Do These Charges Appear on Your Telephone Bill?

Charges for all 900 numbers usually display in a different section of your telephone bill separate from your local and long-distance phone charges. For each call you make to a 900 number, information regarding the exact type of service, the amount you were charged, date, time of the day, and length of the call must be clearly indicated.

Service providers must notify consumers at least one billing cycle before making any changes in their charges.

Your telephone service provider cannot disconnect your standard local and long-distance phone service for defaulting on disputed 900 number charges. However, the company can block you from making further calls to other 900 numbers if you fail to pay legitimate charges.


900 numbers were designed to help consumers access information quite easily. However, some people decided to use the numbers to con consumers and acquire wealth fraudulently. As a result, rules and regulations were put in place to help protect consumers. While some people still manage to circumvent rules and steal from consumers, there are still many pay per call services out there that use 900 numbers to provide legitimate services.