Last week, I published a post about how some of the big wireless carriers were blocking access to free conference calling services and I think some people missed one of the main points I was trying to make in that post -- the fact that we're seeing the new system bump up against the old one in a very disruptive way. The old, very non-IP based system involves expensive infrastructure that must transfer calls from one circuit to another (sometimes involving costs to one or more parties) and vestige fees (eg: for termination access) of an old and tired infrastructure.
A bit of a controversy has erupted where certain free conference calling services purposely route their inbound calls through local exchanges (LECs) that are charging wireless carriers an exhorbitant rate to "bridge" cell calls onto a landline. Then, as I understand it, in exchange for the favor of routing the call through their expensive local exchange and collecting a big fee from the carriers, the LECs kickback a portion of those fees to the conference calling services that basically brought them that business in the first place. It wouldn't be so bad for the carriers if the calls only last a minute or two. But conference calls can drag on forever and, as the clock ticks, the LECs cash register rings, siphoning money out of the carriers' pockets.
Whether or not an outfit like freeconferencecall.com is taking advantage of a situation in a way that produces revenue for the LECs and itself isn't the question. The question is why does that situation technologically exist in the first place? One day, it won't because all of this voice traffic will be over the Internet and there won't be any local exchanges through which to route calls (that, ahem, gets taken care of by a regular old router). When that day comes (if it comes, the telecom sector is using every tool at its disposal to prolong the agony of extinction), the carriers (more likely to be outfits like Skype and AOL then), the fees will evaporate and so too will the business models of outfits like freeconferencecall.com. In the meantime, as long as our prehistoric telcom infrastructure is in place (and kept there by lobbyists who can just as easily tell you with a straight face that smoking is good for you), Freeconferencecall.com is getting vocal. According to an email I received from the outfit today:
Details on what exactly would be found in the formal complaint of that class action suit are not readily available from the Web site. Nevertheless, I'm less interested in who is right and who is wrong and more interested in viewing this from the "who experiences the pain" point of view when when one or more disruptive technologies comes along and upsets a 100 year-old applecart.
FreeConferenceCall.com has created a special web site to set the record straight on the call blocking and law suits being leveraged by the major carriers including Cingular/AT&T Wireless and Sprint/Nextel. This site includes links to current blog postings, blocking FAQs, forum for visitors to blog, and, most importantly, a "Know your Rights" section directing people to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) web site so customers fully understand how their rights are being violated. The Know your Rights section includes links to learning about current FCC regulations, filing a complaint with the FCC, contacting your state attorney general and reading about historic cases that refute the claims of the telecommunications carrier "Goliaths." FreeConferenceCall.com is also encouraging site visitors to subscribe to a list to join the fight in a class action suit.