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Wide Area Telephone Service (WATS) is a specialized form of long-distance service incorporating fixed toll rates offering dial-type telephony service between the service user, usually a business of some sort, and its customers in a given geographical area. It is basically a toll-free telephone service for a business that people can call without incurring any charges, as this is forwarded to the owner of the toll-free number.
Wide Area Telephone Service was introduced in 1961 by Bell Systems as a long-distance flat-rate plan in which businesses could obtain a dedicated line with an included number of hours of call time from specific long-distance areas, and became the basis for the toll-free 1-800 numbers still in use today. A business could set up a WATS service to specific areas and ensure that customers calling from that area would not incur long-distance charges, ensuring customer loyalty as well as gaining new customers since people are more likely to call toll-free numbers than to pay long-distance charges.
The Wide Area Telephone Service (WATS) system is still widely employed in today's service-oriented world, as it is very important for businesses to support their customers and take care of problems in order to maintain customer loyalty. Many customer and call center hotlines use WATS for this purpose.
WATS can either be OUT-WATS (outbound) or IN-WATS (inbound). IN-WATS is the common toll-free numbers that customers call and the subscriber (business) is the one charged. OUT-WATS is basically a fixed-rate long distance service applicable to specific chosen areas, for example allowing parents to call their children who reside in other states for a fixed price, which is usually much less expensive than per-minute charges.