NPA 900

NPA (Area Code) 900 is used in the USA for premium service calls.
The caller to a 900 number is billed a high per minute rate and most of this revenue is paid to the company answering the 900 call.

Most of us have known that over the past five-plus years, the use of
SAC-NPA 500 and SAC-NPA 900 service has declined.

In 1970, AT&T (and Bell Canada for PQ/ON) assigned 900 as a special area
code for "Mass Calling". It was *NOT* originally intended as a sleaze/
scam/scum/etc. psychic/porno code. It was only intended as a "choke"
special area code, for "high-volume incoming calls", such as a
nationwide radio/media event/program. There were about 50 or so 900-NNX
codes assigned to specific cities throughout the US (both Bell and
independent locations) and Bell Canada (PQ/ON ONLY; I don't think that
the Bell Canada 'held' telcos of the Maritime Provinces had 900-NXX
codes at that time though). The orignating toll offices would limit the
amount of call attempts via the nationwide toll network for 900 calls.
The 900-NNX code determined the routing as well as POTS/tariffed-rate
billing based on V&H code of the orignating and destination locations.

While 900 had been assigned since 1970, I never saw even the existance
of SAC 900 until around 1975 when I saw a master list of area codes from
South Central Bell which indicated "900 Mass Calling". I also never saw
any public "use" of 900 except for the March 1977 CBS Radio special
program "Ask President Carter", a call-in event where the public could
call (FREE) 1-900-242-1611 during a special 2-hour broadcast on CBS
Radio (hosted by CBS newsman Walter Cronkite), hopefully to "line-up" to
be able to talk live with then-president Jimmy Carter. The 900-242 code
was assigned to Washington DC in the 1970s, and even though CBS and the
Federal Government arranged the call to be "free" to successful callers,
with the network and/or government picking up the "tab" from AT&T for
the telephone calls and service arrangement, *IF* successful attempts to
call 900-242-1611 were to be charged to the caller, 900-242 indicated
Washington DC, and the caller would be billed for a Saturday afternoon
rated call, from their originating ratecenter, to Washington DC, at
regular customer-dialed 1+ "DDD" rates. But even though the calls were
"free" to the caller (a-la-800), the network still real-time routed the
call to a non-pub 202-NXX-xxxx "POTS" number (or some 202-0/1XX+
internal routing code) based in Washington DC.

I know that during the 1970s, there were other published events with SAC
900 as a "choke" or "Mass Calling" special "area" code, but I was
unaware of them at that time.

Circa 1980, AT&T completely revamped the use of the 900 SAC. Apparantly
with (at the time) "new" CCIS-6 signaling (now since replaced with
CCS/SS7), and the increasing number of new 4ESS switches replacing older
electromechanical 4AXB and XBTandem switches, AT&T might have felt that
a dedicated area code for nationwide "choke" purposes wasn't necessary
anymore, and that standard NPA-NXX "POTS" numbers (or if intended as
free-to-the-caller, then 800 numbers) could be used for such national
high-volume incoming call purposes.

But the 900 SAC was retained in use, only this time for fixed-cost or
fixed-per-minute (all based on the 900-NXX code) "services", such as the
NBS clock in Colorado (900-410-TIME), sports score lines, financial
stock report lines, etc. This all seemed rather innocuous at the time,
but it did open the door, with a snowballing effect, where all of these
"innocent services" morphed and were completely replaced with sleaze,
scams, scum, slime, etc. porno, psychic, gambling, etc. "services".

But in the early-to-mid-1980s, AT&T's "Dial-It 900" service was an
interesting use of the developing CCIS/4ESS network. Most calls (i.e.,
most 900-NXX codes) at that time were 50-c/call, or others were simply
50-c initial and 35-c additional minutes. 900-555 (a brief recorded
"directory" list of some available 900 numbers) and 900-200 were rated
(at that time) as *FREE*. There were some "Dial-IT 900" entities that
wanted their service to be FREE to the caller, and thus would get
numbers 900-200-xxxx. I never saw any actually published, but I heard
that there were indeed some assigned or used from time-to-time.

With the 1984 break-up of AT&T/Bell (i.e., divestiture), AT&T retained
all existing 900 service. (Also, I don't know when 900 service *within*
Canada changed from "Mass Calling" to "Dial-It", but by the mid-1980s,
there were still some 900-NNX codes in Canada, but I don't know if they
were specifically assigned to terminating locations, or if any Canadian
900-NNX could terminate "anywhere" throughout Canada — even outside of

By 1985/86, Bellcore worked out a procedure where unassigned 900-NXX
codes could be assigned to specific competitive carriers and telcos,
for a "Pay-per-call" service. This is *STILL* how 900 is officially
assigned, as is 500. The same assignment scheme is in use for Canada's
600 service, and for "International Inbound" SAC-NPA 456 service. And
prior to FULL portability in toll-free circa 1993/94, 800-NXX codes were
assigned to specific carriers as well, starting 1986 or so.

Also circa 1986, AT&T began to have additional rate categories, again
based on their specific 900-NXX codes, some were QUITE pricey! :(
And other carriers introduced PAY-PAY-PAY-per-call 900 service with
their new assigned 900-NXX codes, again VERY pricey! :(

HOWEVER, there began to evolve QUITE a consumer BACKLASH against this
"new" use of 900, as well as local "special" c.o.code 976 (and other
special for PAY-per-call functions), throughout the later
1980s and into the 1990s, prompting state and ultimately federal
regulators to attempt to CLAMP DOWN on the 900/976/etc "industry".
Telcos and LD Carriers had to provide FREE per-line blocking at the
customer's request from being able to dial to 900-NXX or local 976
numbers (and other similar numbers), etc. And many 'legit' telcos and LD
carriers were apparantly becoming embarrassed by what 900 (and 976) were
"turning into". They also most likely didn't like bad publicity or sore
customer feelings about exhorbitant bills, even though they would
usually 'forgive' all charges (provided that the line be blocked against
further dialing to 900 and 976).

And as a result, 900 "service" as it has evolved, has declined GREATLY
over the past 10 or so years.

I know that about two years ago, AT&T said that they would have a major
policy change regarding billing w/r/t "their" 900-NXX numbers, with
ultimately withdrawing from AT&T 900 altogather. Apparantly the latter
has since taken place....

I took a look at the current NANPA page of 900-NXX assignments:

There are NO LONGER any AT&T 900-NXX codes listed! Not even 900-200 or
900-555. In the 1990s, AT&T used 900-555-1212 at sometimg like $1.00 or
$1.50 or $2.00 per call (I really don't know the "exact" charge) for a
"generic" AT&T (ExcelAgency) "National Directory" service, similar to
one of the menu options on (101-0288)-00 or menu options reachable via
1-800-CALL-ATT. (AT&T Double-Oh Directory). But now, 900-555 is shown as
being assigned to "Telephone Information Services of America L.L.C.",
and has a south Florida (NPA 954) number for business contact purposes.
900-200 isn't even presently listed as assigned anymore.

MCI and Sprint still do have several assigned 900-NXX codes, and many
other "service providers" as well. Canada (under the old "Stentor" name)
has a handful of 900-NXX codes (I guess that the Bell and Telus families
have really inherited this by now), as well as several "reserved for
future Canadian use" 900-NXX codes.

But there seems to be FAR FEWER 900-NXX codes assigned as when compared
to the late 1980s thru mid/late 1990s.

And to think that AT&T no longer has *ANY* 900 "service", when it was
still AT&T Long Lines who introduced the original "Mass Calling" (choke)
function using 900 back circa 1970. But "Mass Calling" (choke) 900 is
NOTHING AT ALL like the current (since mid/late 1980s) PAY-PAY-PAY-per-
call 900, and even the early 1980s "Dial-It 900" is nothing like the
latter use although it did "pave the way" for the eventual sleaze/porn/
psychic/etc. "use" of 900 in more recent years/decades.

Mark J. Cuccia
New Orleans LA CSA
November 2004
Created by: jht2, Last modification: Sun 21 of Nov, 2004 (20:47 UTC)
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