United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta created the nation’s first three-digit telephone number dedicated to community life. On May 6, 1997, the Georgia Public Service Commission assigned 2-1-1 to United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, creating United Way 2-1-1. United Way 2-1-1 is a free, 24-hour telephone information and referral service. Using a database of health and human service providers, it matches callers to social services and volunteer and donation opportunities.
In February 1998, United Way of Connecticut, with Gov. John G. Rowland’s support, requested approval for statewide use of 2-1-1 for Infoline, its 25-year-old information and referral service. Connecticut’s Department of Utility Control approved the request in May 1998 and in June the state legislature approved funding for advanced technology and additional operating costs to handle the anticipated increase in calls to the new 2-1-1 number.
In February 1999, 2-1-1 was activated, and calls from anywhere in Connecticut started to route to a central office where call specialists use a statewide database to link residents with Connecticut’s health and human service providers. Calls to Infoline in Connecticut have increased 40% since the introduction of 2-1-1.
On July 21, 2000, the FCC granted the abbreviated dialing code, 2-1-1, for community information and referral nationwide. In a 5 to 0 vote, the FCC approved at the same time the use of 5-1-1 for traffic/transportation issues. Chairman William Kennard said the purposes of these two initiatives constitute the “highest and best use” of a scarce national resource.
Since then, growth has accelerated dramatically. As of 2017, about 94% of the U.S. population has access to 2-1-1. In Tennessee, all 95 counties can dial 2-1-1.