Cingular, Sprint, And Qwest Block Access To Free Conference Call Services

Cingular blocked access to free conference call providers; Sprint and Qwest found Cingular’s chutzpah inspiring, and followed suit. At issue is a charge Iowa-based companies pass along to national carriers.

The 712 area code used by these services allow the local carriers to charge a number of subsidies to those carrying the incoming calls due to the location of the tiny, rural exchange. These fees are split between the local exchange and the “free” conference call company, which allows them to make a pretty penny. The fees for these calls made into 712 are higher than those charged by other exchanges, and AT&T/Cingular has in fact filed a lawsuit against these Iowa-based telcos for what Cingular claims are violation of a number of laws and FCC decisions.

Reader Mike asked Cingular to explain their action. Their response, inside…

Cingular explained their actions to Mike.
Subject: Re: Cingular Wireless Customer Email – West – [CUST] (x)


Thank you for taking the time to e-mail Cingular Wireless regarding your conference calling feature. I am happy to help you with your inquiry and I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Cingular Wireless has restricted various numbers from being dialed from the wireless handset. This was done because of billing issues regarding charges associated with calling certain chat and conference lines, or because of the potential for fraud posed by certain 900 and 976 numbers.

The information in the contract states, Cingular may choose not to provide service to certain classes of numbers. Examples include 976 and 900 numbers, and certain chat and conferencing services that result in the end user and/or Cingular being charged excessive rates.

We have identified a billing issue with these numbers that does not allow allow us to bill them correctly. You can still access these numbers from a landline phone.

We greatly appreciate the opportunity to serve you. Please let us know if we can assist in any other way, and thank you for choosing Cingular Wireless!


Amanda Tabb
Cingular is now the new AT&T
Online Customer Care Professional

The ‘billing issue’ Cingular refers to is an FCC regulation that allows rural telecoms to charge extra for connecting calls made to their network. To add insult to injury, you cannot “still access these numbers from a landline phone” if your landline provider is Qwest.

Free conference call providers are not staying silent. One, FreeConference, has characterized the move as “a coordinated effort to force you to use the paid services [telecoms] provide.” As a temporary measure, they are evading the restrictions by offering free conference calls using numbers in the 641 area code. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

AT&T/Cingular blocks cellular customers from free conference call services [Ars Technica]
(Photo: MrVJTod)


Edit Your Comment

  1. scoobydoo says:

    HAHA. “A billing issue” = “we don’t make enough money off them”.

  2. FLConsumer says:

    Are phone companies legally allowed to block non-900 numbers? To me, this could lead to ILECs blocking local CLECs, which would be anti-competitive.

  3. If the company loses money, they why should provide the service?

  4. cedarpointfan says:

    That’s funny…Cingular has always let me access free Conference calls in that area code. *shrugs*

  5. MoCo says:

    The real chutzpah here is the Universal Service Fund, which should have long since been abolished. The USF is what makes these “free” services economically viable to the companies that offer them. What’s really happening is that the “free” services are really being paid for by the USF — in other words, by the rest of the telephone customers in the USA.

  6. Red_Eye says:

    @Moonshine Mike: Simply put, because the charges are legal. Its legal for the companies to charge these fees yet the telcos dont want to play ball. Instead they will be happy to SELL you ate a higher cost their version of conference calling. This is monopolistic and nearly racketeering.

    Not that it matters, the more this ugly critter gets dragged into the light, the more the telco money machine will try to bury it under $$$ the more money they throw at the problem sooner or later some legislator will fix the hole.

  7. mac-phisto says:

    @Moonshine Mike: “If the company loses money…” haha! that’s rich! here’s a little info from forbes article “Cingular Profit Quadruples” (01/24/07) for you: “Cingular said it earned $782 million during the fourth quarter, compared with $204 million in the same quarter of 2005. The company reported revenue of $9.8 billion, up 10 percent from $8.8 billion in the same period of 2005.”

    full story:

    time to fight back. we need some fcc regs about charging for incoming AND outgoing calls, txt & sms messages. time to put the fat cats on a diet.

  8. zentec says:

    The telcos have a habit of getting the rules changed for their own benefit.

    Before the dial-up internet access boom, the telcos knew that the CLEC competitors would be terminating more calls into the incumbent networks, so they convinced lawmakers to set rules that required compensation to the company terminating the call. Reciprocal compensation worked well for them until the CLECS started terminating tons of calls from CLEC networks for modem calls; lots of calls that lasted a very long time.

    The ILECS managed to get that pushed away through some crafty lobbying and help from friendly FCC commissioners. What’s even better is that many of the CLECs were never compensated for the calls prior the rules change; the incumbents basically had the rules change made retroactively.

    Enter VOIP and the ILECS again figured that they would be terminating lots of calls on their network and they should be compensated for it. Handsomely. So yet again they managed to get the rules changed in their favor and yet again someone is managing to make a lot of money off the very rules they the incumbents worked so hard to get.

    Serves them right.

  9. dominiksf says:

    I use one of these conference call services and these guys will just come up with new phone number to call in. They’ll just play this cat and mouse game until Sprint blocks out the entire area code, which obviously they cannot do.

    Meanwhile I am waiting on Sprint to mail me my contract. I’d like to see where in my “nation-wide” calling contract it says they reserve the right to block regular phone numbers.

    It was funny to here the Sprint CSR read out some internal memo complaining that hey are getting charged for these calls and that the costs will be bore by the consumer… cry a me a river, I pay $50 for my 1500 day time minutes (yes, you can negotiate with a giant carrier!) and I should be able to call whoever I want in the US.

    They want to get paid on my unused minutes when I do not use up my 1500 day time minutes, yet when I want to make a call that they lose money on they won’t let me?? That’s a load of bull…

    I understand that companies need to make a profit, I run my own company, but they have an obligation to honor the plans they are pushing, otherwise they should not be on TV and print claiming to offer “nationwide long distance”… more like “nationwide long distance*”

    *except when we can’t make a dime of you…