Free Conference Call Companies Rally Customers to Protect Services

Free conference call companies are rallying customers to urge lawmakers and the FCC to not stifle their ability to continue using free conference call services. We let people know to contact their representatives in Congress that they use the service and don't want it to go away, Chief Financial Officer Mike Placido said in an interview.

The commission continues to get comments on a 2007 rulemaking notice concerning just and reasonable rates for terminating access charges by competitive local exchange carriers mainly located in rural areas. Bells have accused rural LECs of traffic pumping, and urged lawmakers and the FCC to look into ending the practice. The House Commerce Committee has collected information from CLECS and interexchange carriers to begin its inquiry (CD Feb 18 p 1). began last month sending a letter to customers urging them to take action. More than 100,000 letters were sent from customers to about 530 members of Congress, said. Customers hope the committee won't bow to pressure from large, national telephone service providers, the letter said. More than 800 copies of a report paid for by and conducted by Information Age Economics claiming that free conferencing services benefit underserved rural and tribal areas and that IXCs don't lose money on calls made to such services, were delivered to Congress and the FCC, President David Erickson said. We've developed a multi-pronged approach. We plan to involve our customers, and we're making sure the decision makers in Washington have access to the facts.

Connecting to a free conference isn't hurting IXCs revenue, said Placido. As a customer, I'm still paying for that call. I'm just not paying for the conference service, he said. The IXC would have you believe that somehow, by me making that call, they're not getting compensated for that call, but they are.

By paying exorbitant intercarrier compensation fees, it's the customers of IXCs and wireless carriers who subsidize free conference calling services, Verizon said in an ex parte filing. Verizon said the claim that the windfall profits benefit rural areas is a "Robin Hood" defense that isn't credible. "We're glad Congress is taking a look at this," a Verizon spokesman said.

Some rural carriers and free conferencing companies say IXCs, like Verizon and AT&T, commit access theft by disputing the fees and refusing to pay them. Erickson wants his company to be included in the efforts underway in Congress. We'd be more than willing to help inform them, he said. Their request is somewhat limited in scope and we do have a lot to offer. Kamala Lane

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