Federal Communications Commission
Washington, D.C. 20554
CC DOCKET NO. 95-155
In the Matter of
RULES PROMOTING EFFICIENT USE, FAIR DISTRIBUTION OF TOLL-FREE NUMBERS
Reply Comments of Vanity International (1997)
Toll Free Service Access Codes (SAC)
Loren C. Stocker, Managing Partner of Vanity International, hereby submits reply comments on vanity numbers on behalf our firm, our clients, and the general public.
Our company is uniquely positioned to view the scope of this situation as we consult to both large, Fortune 500, companies and small companies that subscribe to SOO service. Recently, we launched 800-SoftLinesm and SoftLinesm Studios, which are dedicated to the deployment and development of multi-channel commerce. The SoftLinesm enterprise is basically an incubator for baby businesses aspiring to become the next 800-Flowers, each employing branded toll-free numbers, Internet domain addresses, and interactive services.
We wish to focus our reply comments principally on the vanity numbers and incorporate by reference past comments, specifically Comments of Vanity International (1995) and Reply Comments of Vanity International (1995), Ex Parte Comments of Vanity International (1996), Petition for Stay and Reconsideration (1997), Reply Comments of Vanity International on Petition (1997) and Further Ex Parte Comments on Toll-Free Service Access Codes (1997).
Toll-Free Numbers Hold No Intrinsic Value
We disagree that toll-free numbers have intrinsic value. Contrary to ICB's assertion, the intrinsic value of a vanity number is contained entirely in the vanity overlays created by the end users, not in the numerics themselves. If toll-free numerics had value, then that value would be self-evident and inherent in the digital sequence. It is not. Rather, any value created rests entirely in the vanity overlay -- in 800-NEW-IDEA for example -_ not the underlying toll-free numeric, 800-639-4332. This fact is further evidenced by billing records that universally list only the digital addressing, never the vanity numbers created by users. Ultimately, it is solely the subscriber who creates and privately owns all intellectual property rights to 800-NEW-IDEA, not the public.
We do agree, however, that value is created at the conception of a business plan and that value is not dependent upon use. A mere idea followed by subscription to the appropriate toll-free number is the genesis of defensible business investment. For example, the value of800-NEW-IDEA takes root the moment the toll-free subscription 800-639-4332 is secured. If it takes many months of planning before the vanity overlay is exposed to the public and, of course, to the competition, so be it. Subsequent use as a vanity number only creates and strengthens trademark rights. The business plan itself has had value from the moment the subscriber took action.
In our view, it is the public convent that permits the subscriber to retain and control the underlying toll-free number once "allocated efficiently and fairly" on a "first come, first serve" basis. Allocation to commercial end users has never been conditional. Any subsequent interference by the Commission, RespOrg, Carriers, or anyone else constitutes a breach of trust and may result in damages. Rather, the public interest lies in creating a supportive environment for start-up companies like 800-Flowers, 800-Mattress, and others to flourish and garner investment.
1-800 is Generic and Confusion will Endure Despite Awareness
Pay close attention and you are likely to hear someone say, "Our 800 number 1-888-......" Next year the same statement may apply to "1-877," as well. The fact is that 800 is generic and other SACs in the 800 series are inherently confusing. The Commission itself is creating confusion by using 888-CALL-FCC, which is now losing calls and damaging the user of 800-CALL-FCA, The Feeder Corporation in Illinois. Nobody wins here. Consumers can't reach the FCC and FAC wastes time and energy answering calls for the FCC, as well as seeking credit for wrong numbers with their carrier - who mayor may not be willing to do so. This public confusion will only get worse as additional 800 series SAC's are released.
The power of vanity numbers is in their spontaneous recall. The problem is that most consumers recall "1-800," regardless of which SAC is presented. Once awareness approaches 100%, consumers will then only be sure they are unsure. Consequently, they will try "1-800," then" 1-888," then" 1-877," and so forth until they reach the right party. This failed experiment should be halted at 888 before any more damage is done.
Right-of-first-refusal Should be Granted at No Charge
In our view, the 800 series SAC (888, 877, 866, etc.) are analogous to "Air Rights" over the 800 property. It follows that right-of-first-refusal should be granted to those users who sought the Commission's protection from the "industry's" ill-fated solution. Further, those users who sought protection should not be charged for something that was forced upon them; all because of frivolous assignments by that same "industry" which led to the exhaustion of the 800 SAC.
Build User-Friendly Domain and they Will Come ...
We support the Commission's right to declare 800 and now 888 domains exclusively for commerce, so long as even the smallest of business customers retain equal access to these numbers. Literally, millions of 800 and 888 numbers remain in Carrier control for paging and a variety of non-commercial toll-free uses. For the most part, end users of these services enjoy no portability rights and the reassignment of these numbers to use-specific SACs may only raise protest from Carriers whom the Commission regulates.
We feel, however, that it would be punitive to merely create separate domains say, for example, placing all pagers on 877 and all personal users on 866. These SAC's are too close to 800 to avert confusion and do nothing to create understanding. Rather, if the Commission creates a distinctive domain for pagers, personal, and other major uses the domain would actually attract users. We've suggested domains like SKY, RES, FAX, CAR, and others that may eventually achieve distinction of their own. Immediate relief can come from shifting personal users to the 500 and 700 SACs, as these domains are already designated for personal use.
In our view, the Commission can not begin to create an enduring public policy on vanity numbers without the express recognition that intellectual property rights can be built upon the public convent created by toll-free use. We believe that the land model of ownership fits; using the homesteading model to ensure equitable allocation followed by an uninhibited right of exchange between consenting users to ensure that toll-free numbers are put to their best use in a decentralized fashion.
Subsequently, the Commission should seek comment on creation of additional domains that would become associated with paging, residences, faxing or other uses in much the same way "1-800" has become associated with business use. Toll-free 800 numbers are a great success story. Why not create others?
Loren C. Stocker, P.E. Managing Partner