This is generally because these callers are using a toll-free ANI (caller ID) themselves, or your international toll-free number is registered in a place that does not accept toll-free calls from outside the country. The reason toll-free-to-toll-free calls will sometimes not go through in the United States is that neither party knows who will be paying for the call, so the underlying carriers simply do not complete the call.
Since the breakup of AT&T, followed by the creation of the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC’s) in 1984 and the subsequent Telcom Act of 1996 allowing the creation of even more competitive carriers, calls traversing between networks had to be paid for by one company or the other, and then billed to the end customer.
Normally a phone call is billed by a combination of NPA-NXX (more commonly known as Area Code and Local Exchange). For example:
- A phone call from a local phone in New York 212-288-1111 to a local phone in San Francisco 415-552-1111 would be billed as a long distance call to the local caller initiating the call in New York.
- A phone call from the same phone in New York 212-288-1111 to a Toll-Free number of 800-222-1111 would result in the owner of the Toll-Free number paying the charge based on a charge from New York to the final destination of the Toll Free number.
- A phone call from 800-222-1111 to 800-333-4444 may get dropped as the called party (800-333-4444) does not know where the caller (800-222-1111) is calling from, and therefore does not know at what long distance rate to bill the call.
Over the years, the large telcos (RBOC’s) have come to agreements to allow toll-free numbers to pass between them when calling from one toll-free number to another, since they have better connected databases and can determine how to bill these calls. However, many new competitive toll-free service providers have sprung up. While providing lower cost alternative services, these new providers have also become a source of higher fraud due to the lower barrier for entry in these markets, and are not always a known and trusted entity with the larger RBOC’s. In some of these cases, the RBOC’s will not allow calls from toll-free numbers from non-established sources to call toll-free numbers on their networks since they do not have well established billing arrangements with all these newer companies, and could end up not getting paid for these calls.
International Toll-Free Issues
The expense to the carriers can get even higher when these toll-free numbers are called from outside the country of origin. So by default, most toll-free numbers cannot be called from outside the country they are provisioned in unless specifically arranged, and the owner of the toll-free number agrees to pay all charges (even calls from robo dialers and fraud that can add uncontrolled incremental cost).