All about ABTolls

ABTolls was the first crowdsourced telecom consumer information rates and fees database, launched in 1997. The creators of ABTolls were sitting around a fine restaurant table one evening talking about the state of the telecommunications industry. They realized that although the internet was being touted as the bridge to the 21st century, and all that jazz, that it could also serve as a wonderful information source for the plain old telephone industry (POTI?). They batted around the idea for a bit and decided to create a central location for information on the telecommunications industry. It would be a place to find information on the long distance carriers, find out about the best rate plans (we all know that rate plans were way too complex for consumers to track!), and find some interesting tidbits about the industry. They encouraged users to share information about the industry, rates, fees, and history. The co-founders were of the mindset that the true benefit of the internet is establishing communication between people with like interests the world over. Having worked with the internet in academic settings well before its commercialization they held true to the "old internet" mindset of helping others. They remained strongly opposed to commercial relationships tainting information on a website and did not accept any offers to "play" with the listings to favor certain companies over others. ABTolls listed the rates of all the responsible plans the co-founders heard about from the thousands of users by digging into the details of the plans and unifying them to the true underlying rate in a fully comparable database. ABTolls gathered information from all the users and additional industry and regulatory contacts in the telecom world. The ABTolls community shared information about the various long distance plans available out there. ABTolls checked out each and every plan and turned to the providing companies directly for more details and all the nitty gritty stuff. User input and contributions were critical in helping maintain the accuracy of the database. What has now become known in the modern day as crowdsourcing is what ABTolls was doing before the creation of the term. The information was gathered and standardized following a set of rules:

  1. The true company providing the service was listed when it could be figured out. For instance, if AT&T marketed its dial-around plan as Lucky Dog it was listed as AT&T Lucky Dog. ABTolls tried to let the consumer know who is behind each of the marketing offers they heard about.
  2. Since each carrier collected the FCC's PICC and USF fees differently, ABTolls incorporated their unique charges into the listed carrier rates. Some companies chose to charge these fees as a monthly lump sum and others as a percentage. ABTolls placed the lump sums into a monthly fees column and modified the rates column to include any percentage charges.
  3. Some "creatively marketed" plans had misleading deals regarding the number of minutes per call. ABTolls listed how much a 1 minute call would cost using the plan. If the first minute provided you 19 "free minutes" after that ABTolls listed that in the notes. Since so many calls do not live up to 20 minute minimums, etc. that was the best way ABTolls could think of accurately standardizing the rates in a useful way.
  4. All plans were assumed to have a 1 minute minimum (at the rate posted), and 1 minute billing increments. If the plan offered different terms it was noted on the Plan Details FAQ page. ABTolls always advised consumers that a 6 second or 1 second billing increment could save A LOT of money if the consumer made a lot of short calls or sent a lot of faxes (remember those?).
  5. ABTolls automated pricing tools automatically took billing increments into account to get consumers closer to fully understanding the advantages of smaller billing increments based upon their own unique calling patterns.
  6. Plans were listed in the sort order individual consumers choose on the rates pages. If two carriers had the same rate, the order was randomized.
The co-founders of ABTolls were Scott McCoy, Justin Pollock, and Marc-David L. Seidel. ABTolls was a major part of the transition of the United States telecommunications industry to be more consumer focused. It remained online until 2016.

You can see some previous versions of ABTolls with this ABTolls history archive.