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)