What Does Toll-Free Mean? Definition, Benefits, and Answers to FAQs

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Toll-free numbers have been around for a long time, but what are they, exactly, and how did they come about?

As a business owner, you’ve got to weigh the costs associated with every decision. Read on to find out more about the history of toll-free numbers, if you need one, and whether or not your company would benefit from implementing toll-free conference calls.

What Does Toll-Free Mean?

It’s a term that a lot of people use, but what does toll-free mean?

With phone calls, a “toll” is fee that must be paid by the person placing the call, typically for long-distance calls. When a call is toll-free, the person dialing the number isn’t charged. Instead, the person receiving the call foots the bill.

So, what is a toll-free call? Simply put, it means that the call recipient gets charged for any long-distance calling fees, as opposed to the person placing the call. 

Toll-free calls are placed to specific numbers which have distinct three-digit area codes. The most common (and famous) are 800 numbers. When placing a call to a toll-free, 800 number, you aren’t charged for a long-distance fee. 

While originally designed for landlines, toll-free numbers also work with mobile phones (though, unless you have an unlimited calling plan, wireless carriers will still charge for the air minutes used). Check out the FCC’s official explanation of toll-free numbers and calls for more info.

Why is this important in regard to conference calls? With audio conferencing, it’s common to have clients call in from all around the country or world. Depending on where they live and how long the calls last, this can get expensive – unless it’s a toll-free call.

Someone joining a toll-free audio conference won’t have to worry about any long-distance fees. If you regularly host international conference calls, you should consider a toll-free line so that your participants don’t end up paying a fee to join your meetings.

Now we’ve answered, “what does toll-free mean?” and “what is a toll-free call?” let’s move onto some other pertinent questions.

What Is a Toll-Free Number?

A toll-free number is the actual phone number used when placing a toll-free call. The numbers are assigned on a first come, first served basis by organizations called “Responsible Organizations,” or “RespOrgs.” 

In the US, there are specific three-digit area codes designated for toll-free numbers. Everyone knows 800 numbers are toll-free. But what about 877? 866? Are 855 numbers toll-free?

Currently, the following prefixes are toll-free:








Calls placed to any number that begins with any of those three-digit combinations incur no long-distance charges for the caller. 

How Does a Toll-Free Conference Call Work?

When you have clients from all around the country or the world, you don’t want them worrying about paying a fee just to call in. With a toll-free conference plan, your callers won’t have to worry about any long-distance charges. So, who pays for a toll-free conference call?

Depending on your toll-free audio-conferencing plan, you’ll have either:

A time limit before you are charged an additional rate per minute;


An unlimited plan and never have to worry about paying more than the fixed monthly rate. This is generally preferred when you’ll be conferencing with 15 clients or more.

If you wish, you can even add a toll-free line to your existing audio bridge plan. This option is popular among businesses that prefer to keep a regular plan for their in-house meetings and have a toll-free number to use with outside clients or long-distance callers.

In any case, with a toll-free conferencing plan you’re opting to pay a flat rate instead of worry about long-distance fees. Here are some things to consider when choosing a toll-free plan:

  • The number of callers you’ll have on the line. Each tier will likely have a limit.
  • The amount of time you’ll be hosting these toll-free conference calls. It’s okay to go over your allotted monthly limit every once in a while, but if it happens consistently, you should upgrade to a higher tier or an unlimited plan.
  • The number of lines included in the plan. Multiple lines become essential with larger businesses. What if two or more business meetings need to happen at once?

Once you’ve decided on a plan, you can start inviting clients to your virtual meetings.

To host a meeting, simply give your clients the toll-free number and have them call in. With Branded Bridge Line’s pin-less calling feature, your callers don’t need to worry about typing in a PIN (and don’t worry: it’s a secure conference line).

Pro Tip

For advice on hosting a perfect virtual meeting check out our blogs on setting up a conference call and proper conference call etiquette.

Dedicated Lines for Your Business

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Why Would You Need a Toll-Free Number for Your Business?

Toll-free numbers are especially useful for customer service numbers and sales numbers for businesses. Due to the fact that they are completely free for callers, they are an excellent way to ensure customers (and potential customers and clients) encounter the lowest barrier to entry possible when interacting with your business. 

But more than anything, toll-free numbers are a status symbol. Since the 1950s when they were first introduced, having one meant you ran a well-established business that could cover the cost of calls for your customers. In the beginning, only the biggest companies could afford toll-free numbers – and while they are more affordable now, that mindset still exists for consumers today. 

Businesses with a toll-free number come across as more trust-worthy and better-established. Whether you’re looking to impress potential clients or show existing customers that you have a well-run business, they are an easy way to make an excellent impression. 

Pro Tip

Impress your clients even further by including professionally recorded branded greetings and hold messages.

Should You Use Toll-Free Numbers for Conference Calls

So, it’s clear that having a toll-free number is a good look for every business. But, should you use one for your conference calls? It’s an excellent question, and there is a clear answer. 

Here are three reasons to consider using a dedicated toll-free number for your next conference call:

  1. Most conference call services assign a random phone number to each new meeting you schedule, which can cause delays and confusion when joining the meeting. With a dedicated toll-free conference line, you can eliminate confusion and save time for your conference call participants.  
  2. Landlines charge long distance fees for any number dialed outside of the local area code. Your participants are going to incur long distance fees for every minute spent on a conference call outside of their area code. With a toll-free number, you come off as more professional and save your callers money.
  3. If you have international team members or clients, a toll-free number is a must. Otherwise, they will be responsible for paying the long-distance fees. After a while, those costs (and your callers’ annoyance) will start to add up. 

The History of Toll-Free Numbers

With all this talk about toll-free calling, aren’t you a little curious as to how toll-free numbers came to be?

In the US, UK and Canada, the concept of toll-free numbers and toll-free calling has been around for a very long time. First introduced back in the 1950s, toll-free calling was a way for people to access businesses via telephone that were not physically located in their local community or area code. 

While the initial iterations relied on basically the same concept, the process of completing a toll-free call was very different back then. In the 1950s when it was introduced, most calls were routed through an operator. If a caller wanted to make a toll-free call, they would dial “0” to reach the operator and ask for a specific “Zenith” number before being connected. 

If a business had a Zenith number (that’s what toll-free numbers were called back then), the operator would then know to reverse the charges before connecting the calls. This would ensure that the business receiving the call incurred all associated long-distance charges, as opposed to the caller who would normally be responsible for paying for a long-distance call. 

Similar to why businesses choose to offer toll-free numbers today, back then it allowed companies to reach more customers and people outside their local area. It was an affordable way for businesses to broaden their reach, as customers were more likely to call a toll-free number knowing they wouldn’t have to pay for it. 

How to Get a Toll-Free Conference Call Number

Now that you know what toll-free means, how a call works, and why it’s good for your business, all that is left to do is get one for your business.

The easiest way to get a toll-free number for your next conference call is to pick a conferencing service that offers them. Not all conference call providers have toll-free numbers.

Furthermore, NONE of the free service providers will be able to assign you a single toll-free number for your conference calls. 

At Branded Bridge Line, we offer several different toll-free conferencing plans, plus the option to add a toll-free line to any plan whenever you might need it.  

We make it simple and affordable to get your very own toll-free conference line, no matter what your specific conferencing needs are. Choose Branded Bridge Line to take your conferencing to the next level with a dedicated, toll-free conference call line.

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