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
    ..., 5 Oct 2007 @ 7:30pm

    Gee really...

    It doesnt take a rocket scientist to see something was being exploited...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Surfsailor, 5 Oct 2007 @ 7:34pm



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Surfsailor, 5 Oct 2007 @ 7:35pm

    Dam - missed it

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2007 @ 10:11pm

    Re: playing games?

    You're new here, arent you

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    fishbane, 6 Oct 2007 @ 3:59am

    Are we really defending ATT now? Their point seems to be that regulations are great, so long as they win. If someone outthinks them, that's bad.

    I'd love to see an equal footing for telecom, telecom startups, and alternatives, but somehow I think my interests and ATT diverge just... perhaps a little.

    Protecting rights is important, but protecting already well protected semi-nationalised firms, not so much. I know we can't practically rollback what has happened, but taking an adversarial role to what they've become is reasonable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2007 @ 5:09am

    is this what the world coming to ???

    Damn man .. We're feeling sorry for one of the worst corporate companies in this country. (talking about ATT for the one tuning in this century) what next .. feel sorry for Enron, WCom, steve jobs and the king of all .... MS ..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Meoip, 6 Oct 2007 @ 7:15am


    The whole industry is backward. Tax subsidies and my taxes pay for ATT to put new lines in. Then I pay again to get that line run an extra 10 feet to my house, then I pay a monthly fee just to have access to that line. Then I pay a higher monthly fee just to make out going calls.
    I laughed at ATT when I started using a free voip service that let me punch in my phone number then the number I want to speak with. The internet calls my land line then calls the person I want to speak with. I recieve an incoming call and sine incoming calls are free I subscribe to the ATT $4.25 plan and get $60 worth of service for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2007 @ 1:39pm

    Re: @fishbane

    It's ATT's legal obligation as an entity to make as much money as they can however they can. If that means exploiting regulations when they can and stopping others from doing it to them. Their stance doesn't change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    dualboot, 6 Oct 2007 @ 2:41pm

    Not defending big companies

    Okay, I'm not defending any big phone company, but do you really think that those of us paying for service would be paying as much if the big companies didn't have to pay the little companies that were using exploits? I'm all for them paying to help build up the infrastructure, but perhaps there needs to be a regulation that they actually HAVE to use that money, or at least a portion of it (50% is more than reasonable) to do what it was intended to do... improve the infrastructure of the little guys. It seems like in the long run that would work out better for the little companies anyway... a better network = higher capacity of paying customers = higher revenues = more able to compete with big companies.

    I think it's less about the big companies and more about the fly-by-night companies setting up for the specific purpose of exploiting the system. Anyone who got shut down by a certain VOIP provider this year without prior notice and the inability to now port out their existing number of 15 years knows what I'm saying here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Arochone, 6 Oct 2007 @ 3:30pm

    Re: Not defending big companies

    Yes, actually, I do think you would be paying just as much without those little companies doing that. The difference is the big companies would be making bigger profits. Supply and demand. They amount they charge is based on the price that the most people will buy it at. The price that gets them the most profits. If they know you'll pay $60 for it, why would they charge less? You think they'd just charge you less to be nice?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    THUFIR, 6 Oct 2007 @ 4:47pm

    Re: Re: Not defending big companies

    Well, if you're making x percent margin, a competitor will come along and make x-1 percent margin. That's competition, that's why the price could be lower.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    The Joe, 6 Oct 2007 @ 5:21pm

    AT&T stoped paying term fees a while ago.

    In 2000 and 2001 I worked at the helpdesk for the Dial-up ISP side of a small telco in Iowa. Sometime during that period AT&T stopped paying some of the Iowa telcos the term fees just because they didn't want to. Blatently breaking the law without thinking twice must be AT&T's policy. AT&T figured the telcos wouldn't be able to affored to sue them. I left the company before finding out what the outcome of that was.
    Bottom line.....screw AT&T and if they are getting ripped off by this loophole...well, karma's unfogiving.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    clearly not all there, 7 Oct 2007 @ 7:44am

    BELLS are the Illegal ones

    Can't people see the writing on the wall? AT&T wants to be a monopoly again. Think your rates are high now, wait until that happens. AT&T did chat forever when the rules went there way. Now they scream foul when they done. Look at this power point.

    AT&T hosts their conference call gear at a clec called teleport. Why? the same rules that allow others to get this money. Don't ever think you can belive one thing that comes out of a bells mouth. just as well be www.att.gov.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Ryan Johnson, 7 Oct 2007 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Phone Biz.

    Hello, my name is Ryan. I saw your comments about AT&T and thought i'd just drop a line letting you know that I completely agree with you. That's why I got started in a deregulation company that also offers VoIP and Video Phones. If you might be interested in getting on the other side of the communications industry "The recieving side" send me back an e-mail and I would be happy to send you some information.

    Thanks for your time,
    Ryan J.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Ryan Johnson, 7 Oct 2007 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Phone Biz.

    Hey, sorry I forgot to leave my e-mail address ryanjohnsonrvp@yahoo.com Also if anyone would like save money on there service or even knows someone that would like to, get a hold of me.
    Thanks again,
    Keep fighting the GOOD Fight!

    Ryan J.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. 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."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Burzum, 8 Oct 2007 @ 5:36am

    Think before you Legislate!

    ...and maybe stuff like this won't happen. Not that I feel sorry for AT$T.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Alex, 8 Oct 2007 @ 11:39am

    Re: Not defending big companies

    FreeConference.com has been around for 6 years. Why is AT&T getting the FCC to do its bidding now? Because of all the new fly-by-night companies and chat companies who were running to the most extreme abusers of this regulatory system. In the free conferencing industry case, this is a reasonable balancing act. AT&T is making 5 to 10 cents a minute on the new long distance business FreeConference generates and only paying 1 to 4 cents to rural telcos for access (that is why they never prompted FCC action previously--they are making a very large profit on this business). "Exploiting the system" is something AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and Qwest are masters at and you can find dozens of examples of them playing the regulatory game for fun and profit at the user's expense. In this case, everyone benefits. Users pay for long distance service to consume services they want. Carriers earn incremental profit. Rural telcos profit and can compete across the spectrum of services in their areas without needing to pull as hard from the Universal Service Fund. Free Conferencing companies profit and continue to innovate to drive down conferencing costs with more and better features--another win for consumers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Alex, 8 Oct 2007 @ 11:42am

    Re: Re: Not defending big companies

    Note that conference calls used to cost 50 cents a minute (once you were approved for credit). Because of the free conferencing companies, it now is essentially the same cost as long distance (LD revenues average about 6.5 cents per minute and conferencing costs average about 7 cents per minute). Competition is good for consumers, even if it is through what seem to be bizarre regulatory systems that end up balancing the power in the telecom industry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Free Calls, 10 Aug 2008 @ 10:55am

    techdirt:for free calls

    free conferencing calling is also good medium to talk in free of cost.we can make
    Free Calls easily.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Mrhobbes (profile), 8 Apr 2014 @ 6:08am

    Re: Dam - missed it

    No buddy, you haven't missed.. If you're looking for an alternative to make free calls, this link would be perfect for you.. http://goo.gl/GbnCLM

    You can make free calls to India for 100 minutes

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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