Exploiting Telco Regulations For Free Calls And For Profit (Lots And Lots Of Profit)

from the so-easy,-it's-almost-criminal... dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about how suddenly a bunch of "free" calling services were popping up that all seemed to use phone numbers in Iowa. This included a service that would let you call an Iowa number and from there call anywhere in the world for free as well as a variety of "free conference calling" services. All of these systems were actually exploiting some legacy telco regulations, that were officially designed to help rural telcos get extra money to build out more rural service. Basically, the government allowed rural telcos to charge high termination fees to other telcos when calls from their lines terminated on one of the rural telco's lines. So, if you had AT&T and called your cousin in Iowa who had some small rural telco, AT&T would actually have to pay that telco some charge per minute, with the idea being that the telcos would use that money to invest in infrastructure. Of course, the infrastructure they invested in wasn't exactly building more lines to wire up others in the town, but in VoIP systems so they could reroute calls in to anywhere else, and then team up with various online sites to get as many calls as possible routed through those systems. Then they could just sit back and collect the millions of dollars rolling in from telcos. Broadband Reports points us to an article at the Wall Street Journal going into more details about how this happened -- and how the FCC is now scrambling a bit to see if there's a way they can stop it. In the meantime, the WSJ piece notes that while the telcos have been told by the FCC that they have to keep connecting these calls, they've simply stopped paying any of the termination fees as they await the results of the various lawsuits. Of course, all that's done for now is made the various free conference call services switch to other rural telcos in other states. Eventually, though, they'll run out of other states to go to (or the regulators will finally realize how their regulations are being exploited) and the little regulatory exploit will go away.
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Filed Under: arbitrage, free conference calls, iowa, telcos, termination fees
Companies: at&t, fcc, freeconference.com, qwest, sprint, verizon


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  1. identicon
    Read Theorder, 7 Oct 2007 @ 2:34pm

    Read the Order

    "We find that Farmers’ payment of marketing fees to the conference calling companies does not affect their status as customers, and thus end users, for purposes of Farmers’ tariff. Qwest offers scant support for its assertion that one cannot subscribe to a service without making a net payment to the service provider....Qwest has failed to prove that the conference calling company-bound calls do not terminate in Farmers’ exchange, and has failed to prove that Farmers’ imposition of terminating access charges is inconsistent with its tariff. We therefore deny Counts II and III of the Complaint." FCC's Farmer's Order.

    In addition the FCC order stated that Farmer's tariff's were valid and that Farmers could collect the withheld access fees from the carriers in "federal court." The WSJ reporter clearly did not read the FCC's order.

    The FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which merely opened the docket and asks for comments, states: "We believe that traffic may be stimulated through a variety of means, including conference bridges, chat line facilities, call center operations, and help desk provisioning. We invite
    interested persons to comment on the prevalence of these types of operations and to describe in detail how
    each type of service is provisioned. We understand that carriers complaining about the access stimulation
    arrangements also offer conferencing and other services that may result in increased traffic. We ask such
    carriers to explain how they provide each of the above mentioned services, including what charges they
    assess on the provider, whether access charges are assessed on such calls, and what compensation, if any,
    is paid to such provider."

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