There’s No Such Thing as Unlimited Toll Free Forwarding Minutes.
There’s a good chance this blog post is going to tick off a few toll free service providers. Too bad. It’s time to call a spade a spade. The truth is no phone company actually offers unlimited toll free number service. There’s no such thing. BUT, unfortunately, there are some phone companies out there that are perfectly comfortable lying about it, and it’s pretty much legal to do so.
Get Toll Free Service with “Unlimited” Minutes, But There’s a Catch!
Phone companies that advertise toll free 800 number service with “Unlimited Minutes”, have something hidden in their lengthy terms and conditions’ legalese called a “Fair Use” Policy. This term is sometimes called other things, but in the telecom world it’s generally referred to as a Fair Use Policy. And there’s nothing fair about it.
What is a Fair Use Policy?
In the telecom industry a Fair Use Policy is a statement in a phone company’s terms and conditions that basically says your service provider has the right to raise your rates if they determine that you are using the service in an “unusual” way. What does that mean? It means your Phone Company can raise your rates if they think you’re using too many minutes. It’s as simple as that.
Your Unlimited 800 Number Service Has a Secret Limit You Don’t Know About.
The language for most Fair Use Policies is written in a way that makes it sound like the phone company uses qualitative factors to determine “fair use”, but in reality it’s strictly quantitative. Again, it’s simple. They put a secret limit on your “unlimited” plan. If you go over a certain amount of minutes, like let’s say you hit their secret 3000 minute cap, then they shut you off and charge you more money.
They lie to your face and put your business at risk.
So let’s say you hit their secret limit and they charge you more. If you don’t pay it, the best case scenario is they shut you off—worst case, your phone company holds your toll free number hostage and sends you to collections. They may even charge you late fees. If you formally cancel they might hit you with a cancelation fee. And after you’ve paid your bill, they might even let you transfer your number to another provider but only after you pay a porting fee for good measure. Maybe it’s your fault. After all, you did agree to their ambiguous Fair Use Policy buried in a 200 page downloadable PDF of terms and conditions. (It’s not your fault.) They tell you that you bought an “Unlimited Plan”. They didn’t tell you about the secret 3000 minute limit or whatever it is. They lie to your face and put your business at risk. Not cool. Not fair.
How in The H-E DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS is This Even Legal?
Okay, I’m not a lawyer or FCC expert by any means, but here’s my take on it. The FCC originally condoned Fair Use Policies for phone companies who provide unlimited outbound calling plans because there were real cases of auto-dialer abuse. Basically, telemarketing companies who use robo-calling programs to make thousands of outbound calls in seconds would crash networks and cause problems for normal use customers. That’s not fair use. However, the keyword here is OUTBOUND.
There’s a Difference Between Unlimited Outbound Calling VS Unlimited Inbound Calling.
So, when it comes to phone companies who provide unlimited OUTBOUND calling, it’s perhaps still a little misleading, but it’s reasonable for these companies to have a Fair Use Policy in place. It protects their network from outbound robo-calling abuse. There may even be other sensible reasons to have special terms and conditions that protect from other types of abuses, but this reasonable use logic does NOT apply to companies who advertise unlimited toll free number service with unlimited INBOUND minutes. Toll free numbers by design are for receiving inbound calls.
Call it What It Is. Horse Hockey.
Companies who have a Fair Use Policy that applies to their INBOUND toll free minutes are not worried about OUTBOUND auto-dialer abuse. They are purposefully misusing the original intent of the policy so they can deceptively use the word “UNLIMITED”, and thus trick customers into purchasing their service. Call it a loophole. Call it a grey area. But call it what it is: A shady and unethical practice…and I guess it’s legal… It’s Horse Hockey! That’s what it is. (Sorry for using a Ned Flanders curse word, but our blog has a no profanity policy.)
Even If It’s Legal, Why Would a Phone Company Lie to Your Face?
You’d think it would be bad for business to blatantly lie to your customers, but you’d be wrong. Phone companies with unlimited toll free service plans lie to you with a smile on their face—for TWO reasons. They’ve done the research and they’ve done the math.
The Marketing Research Says People Are Scared of Overages.
Marketing research overwhelmingly indicates that people will pay more for the word “unlimited”. Customers would rather pay $75 per month for unlimited minutes, than pay $50 per month for 3000 minutes (even if they only use 1000 minutes per month to begin with). For some reason the idea of going over your plan’s minutes scares people. It must be the fear of the unknown or the security of knowing you are only going to pay so much every month. So you set your budget and you’re good. No need to worry. UNLESS OF COURSE, you hit your “unlimited” plan’s SECRET LIMIT and activate the FAIR USE POLICY, in which you’ll end up PAYING OVERAGES that you didn’t even know existed. Which, paradoxically, is actually scarier and a totally unfair policy.
The Math Says You’ll Only Tick Off About 10% of Your Customers.
So back to the original question. Even if it’s legal, and phone companies can technically charge their customers more, wouldn’t blatantly lying to your customers ultimately be bad for business? We’ll in the phone companies mind, it’s only lying if they get caught. Phone companies that offer these unlimited plans analyze their customer base’s usage. They simply do the math. They figure out what the sweet spot is where they will likely only ever have about 10% of their customers reach the secret limit. It turns out it’s totally worth it to tick off about 10% of your customers in order to make money with the word “Unlimited”.
So, If You’d Make More Money, Why Doesn’t Every Toll Free Service Provider Offer an Unlimited Plan?
It’s happening more and more. In fact, the reason I decided to write this article is because one of our major competitors recently changed their pricing and is now offering an Unlimited Toll Free Number Plan (with a Fair Use Policy of course). Before I even wrote this article I visited their website and chatted online with one of their sales reps. I got him to admit that their unlimited plan wasn’t truly unlimited. I even took screenshots of the conversation and thought about posting them. I decided against it. I felt like it would be a jerk thing to do. And heck, there are people in our company that have proposed we A/B test our own pricing with an Unlimited Plan. We have tens of thousands of customers to run an analysis on. We could find the money-making sweet spot and only tick off 10% of our customers.
It Just Doesn’t Feel Right.
We haven’t offered an unlimited toll free service plan because it goes against how we are trying to differentiate ourselves from other phone companies. In an industry chock-full of hidden fees and outsourced customer service, we’re trying to do better. We try to offer straightforward plans and pricing. And while other phone companies are outsourcing their customer support to overseas call center farms, we’ve purposely kept our customer service 100% USA-based. Do we love America more than other phone companies? Probably—but that’s not the point. We don’t offer unlimited toll free number service plans backed by dishonest Fair Use Policies, because it just doesn’t feel right. It feels like lying.