Earlier, 976 numbers used 976 as a local prefix (970 or 540 in some markets like New York state), though it was not assigned to a specific telephone exchange like other prefixes.
Initially, consumers had no choice regarding the accessibility to 900/976 numbers on their phones.
However, in 1987, after a child had accumulated a bill of $17,000 From the early 1980s through the early 1990s, it was common to see commercials promoting 1-900 numbers to children featuring such things as characters famous from Saturday morning cartoons to Santa Claus.
In 1992, the Supreme Court allowed a law passed by Congress that created a block on all 900 numbers that provided adult content, except for those consumers who requested access to a specific number in writing.
The law killed the adult 900 number business, which moved over to 800 numbers, where billing had to be done by credit card.
A call to either one of these numbers can result in a high per-minute or per-call charge.
For example, a "psychic hotline" type of 1-900 number may charge .99 for the first minute and 99 cents for each additional minute.
The industry still suffers from the stigma attached to the early days of the industry when adult entertainment lines were heavily advertised on late-night television commercials.
Hulk Hogan's Hotline was a lucrative 900 number in the 90s.
At that time, many evening news agencies conducted "pulse polls" for $.50 per call charges and displayed results on television.
One early use was by Saturday Night Live producers for the sketch "Larry the Lobster", featuring Eddie Murphy. AT&T and the producers of SNL split the profits of nearly 0,000.
While the billing is different, calls are usually routed the same way they are for a toll-free telephone number, being anywhere despite the area code used.