Federal Communications Commission
CC Docket No. 95-155
In the Matter of
Toll Free Service Access Code
COMMENTS OF VANITY INTERNATIONAL
Loren C. Stocker, Managing Partner of Vanity International, hereby submits comments in conjunction with the Notice of Proposed Rule Making released in this proceeding on October 5, 1995. With respect thereto, the following is stated:
Vanitysm International is the world's premier vanity design and consulting firm. We specialize in strategic marketing through the creation, acquisition, and application of vanity numbers, typically vanity 800 numbers. I am managing partner of the firm and the author of article on vanity numbers that appeared in Advertising Age (July 24, 1995). We believe you will find the article to be timely, informative, and perhaps the definitive work of its kind, and have included for your reference.
We work directly for the end users of 800 numbers to create and implement an enduring contact strategy. Our clients include many well-known, Fortune 500 companies and others who wish to create competitive advantage in their class of goods or services. Further. we are developing marketing programs and services for our own vanity numbers.
We are especially concerned about any language that would revert control of 800 numbers back to the carriers under the legal fiction of a protecting a "public resource. II Specifically. we feel that there should be no language that would prevent our clients, and others, from the free exchange, release, or transfer ownership of 800 numbers for a fee, if necessary, to compensation the releasing party for their legitimate business interest. What right does the FCC have to prevent us from acquiring numbers we need, if all parties are willing?
Further, it would be an outrage and an embarrassment for the FCC to allow the cartel of large carriers who call themselves "the industry" to regain control of 800 and future tol1¬free numbers. Everyone knows that the industry has always held the best numbers for their best customers which, in effect, leveraged this "Public Resource" for their own gain. This is a pure and simple attempt to undo what the courts have done; confirmed the customer's legal right of ownership and control.
Our comments will be representative of the end user's perspective. Beyond our primary concern for the free exchange of numbers, we will propose a framework that will avert the 800 "crisis" altogether, if adopted. We believe these to be sensible solutions that have somehow escaped the discussions thus far.
Unassigned 800 numbers may be something akin to a "public resource," but once 800 are assigned to a business this premise goes to its logical demise. The whole idea behind portability was that customers own their numbers; not the carriers. So, why reverse this now?
At a minimum, a phone number represents a user's connection to their proprietary customer base. This reason alone is sufficient to view assigned 800 numbers as a business asset comparable to any other trade secret. Further, when an 800 number is used as a vanity number or in a jingle (like Empire Carpet in Chicago "588-2300"), it becomes a service mark and acquire brand equity like 1-800-Call-ATT, 1-800-Collect, 1-800-Flowers, and others. In effect, proprietary intellectual properties are overlaid onto 800 numbers, just as landscape improvements and buildings are overlaid onto real property.
This concept of a "public resource" for unassigned 800 numbers may have merit analogous to the status of public land prior to homesteading. But, once assigned, 800 numbers inseparately contain proprietary intellectual property and -- like real property -- ¬should be afforded full legal protection. It would be equally absurd to renounce real estate ownership rights simply because the land was at one time barren. The FCC should not allow "the industry" to make any rule that interferes with the rights of businesses to freely exchange, release, or transfer ownership of800 numbers. Period. Anything short of this would give "the industry” an unconscionable license to interfere with the business plans of their subscribers.
It's clear to us that "the industry" created the crisis we are in today. Not by the limited supply of800 numbers, but rather by their appetite for somewhat frivolous assignments. Most recently, tithe industry" has diminished the business status of 800 numbers by assigning them to a mixed bag of residential, pagers, cellular phone, and the like. I understand that a certain savings bank even gave away 800 numbers to anyone who opened an account. There was never a crisis when 800 numbers were used primarily for business. Now that they've been given away like toasters, we've run out. No surprise.
From our research, millions of 800 numbers -- and I don't mean thousands -- ring to single-user personal voice mail, homes, cars, cellular phones, pagers. or are "in-stock" and ready such purposes. Of course, the purveyors of these services are customers -- not carriers themselves -- so these numbers are listed as "working" in the national database. It should come as no surprise that we are about to run out given that there was never any toil free planning and no constraints in place until June 1995.
It is clear that the carriers -- now acting as a virtual cartel -- are using this crisis to partially undo portability rights. Declaration of 800 numbers as a "public resource" is just a smoke screen to justify severe restrictions in the transfer of 800 number ownership. Read through the smoke. "The industry" is really seeking to reverse court-ordered customer ownership rights and reestablish 800 numbers as their business assets. They can then openly leverage 800 numbers they control to close new business with long-term contracts.
This is going on right now, although not openly! If you're in denial, it can be easily confirmed that virtually no 800 numbers have aged (i.e. dropped back in the national database) since "the industry" got wise late this summer. Further. many numbers are now being listed as "working" during the aging process to avoid detection. If 800 numbers are a "public resource" as claimed, why are the carriers allowed to control these 'pubIic resources" to benefit themselves and their larger, more-favored customers. Check it out. The data speaks volumes. Any action that would lift or curtail customer ownership and the free exchange of 800 numbers should be vigorously opposed.
Real Solutions - Mnemonic Toll-Free Codes
The reason 800 numbers have such great value is their mindshare; virtually every American knows that 800 numbers are for business toll-free. This is a vital distinction because 888 numbers will be functionally equivalent, but will never achieve the prestige and universal acceptance of 800 numbers -- even years from now. From a marketing standpoint, if an 800 number is on Main Street, an 888 number will be a Second Avenue address. The exchanges that follow, 877, 866, etc., will be pure non-sense.
A real solution for the 800 crisis is to do what is equivalent to urban planning. Do nothing, and you have downtown Boston with it's paved over cow paths (the 800 world today). Plan now, and you at least have Chicago; a grid system where most everything makes sense. I propose that we undo as much of the damage as possible and do it now! Here’s how.
It's time to change our thinking. The concept behind this proposal is to adopt mnemonic toll-free codes. Each major-use category would select mnemonic codes with logical meaning, like SKY, CAR, RES, PAG, USA, AIR, etc. These unforgettable toll free codes would create understanding, and be immensely more desirable that mix-use, non-sensible numerics like 888, 877, 866 and others. This concept has worked so well in the private sector (vanity numbers), why not adopt it as a public toll-free policy?
The key benefit is that mnemonic codes would be far more desirable, memorahle and more prestigious than pure numerics. So much so that users will clamor to get on to the new area code, rather than desperately hang-on to 800 numbers. Further, we will instantly increase our capacity to 30 -50 million toll-free numbers and open up millions of new vanity numbers. Crisis solved! Key FCC actions are:
- Decree that 800 numbers and, the new 888 exchange to be exclusively for business toll-free. as of some reasonable date. Allot her users will be getting new toll-free codes. Any 800 number used for residential, pager or cellular customers will be required to go shared-use. Overnight, we'll be back to 60% capacity, or so, with 100% of 888 waiting in the wings.
- Decree that all residential customers will be getting new toll-free codes, as of some reasonable date. Convert this user group to 500 numbers or create special mnemonic codes like HOM, PER or RES, for example.
- Decree that all pager customers will be getting new toll-free codes, as of some reasonable date. Convert this user group to mnemonic codes like BEP, USA, PAG or SKY., for example.
- Decree that all cellular customers will be getting new toll-free codes. as of some reasonable date. Convert this user group to mnemonic codes like AIR, CEL, POR, or CAR, for example.
What timing! We have the entire spectrum of three digit area codes available for the creation of mnemonic codes. Those already assigned can even be taken back, if needed, without great hardship -- they're not yet in use. In summary, great mnemonic codes will -- overnight -- achieve the same prestige and acceptance as 800 numbers has over many years. No numeric code can possibly do that. If asked, my firm would be delighted to help select appropriate mnemonics.
Comments on Key Questions
Warehousing-- What's done, is done. Actually, this may be a diminishing problem since the warehousing carriers are depleting their stock of numbers to satisfy demand. Forcing deposits will only serve to disadvantage small carrier and small businesses. Rather, why not allocate the release of 888 numbers, in a fashion similar to today's 800 allocation? This should give the carriers incentives to curtail frivolous assignments of 888 as they are today. The real key is to free 800 numbers from the frivolous use, i.e. adopt mnemonic codes.
PINS- Why would you not REQUIRE shared-use on all 800 numbers used for personal voice mail, homes, cars, cellular phones, or pagers? It is only the carriers that benefit from the language, "encourage, but not require." This action alone would free hundreds of thousands of 800 numbers that are currently in-use or "in-stock."
Vanity Numbers-- Right of first refusal is essential! Without this mechanism in place countless companies will be forced into a court battle to protect their good will from free riders and speculators. Why not just institute a simple 30-60 day window for companies to stake their claim, similar to international free-fone? Claimants should only be required to have the 800 version as of the date they file. Beyond that, simply open it up on a first-come basis. Forget any regulation (industry codes), special fees and the like. It's not an FCC problem if companies fail to take advantage of this window of opportunity. Just make certain you provide a window.
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully requested that these comments be considered in this proceeding.
Chicago, IL 60614
Loren C. Stocker. P .E.