NEW YORK —
Helein denied PrimeTel was trying to capitalize from misdials or engaged in a strategy to intercept calls made by customers of other businesses.
The key to PrimeTel's business is its access to the entity that controls the assignment of toll-free numbers, called the 800 Service Management System. Numbers are available on a first-come, first-served basis at a cost of about 9.6 cents per month. When a customer is done using a number, it is supposed to go back into the pool for use by someone else.
FCC rules expressly ban service providers from reserving a number unless they have a genuine customer lined up to use it. Speculating in numbers is banned. They are considered public resources that may not be bought or sold. The big phone companies that supply toll-free numbers make their money not by selling the number itself but by providing telephone service.
But there are also companies that are illegally buying and selling the numbers, and they are a hot commodity, sometimes even available on eBay.
Such numbers are so highly sought-after that several companies have built powerful computer systems that search the database every day, looking for digits of potential value. Numbers can be reserved as quickly as 95 milliseconds after they are released by former users.
Helein said PrimeTel has been the target of complaints from other industry players who are "jealous" of the company's computer systems.