Friday, March 16, 2007

An Example Of Anti-Consumer

March 16, 2007

A bit off topic, but this news generated my second letter to the FCC in the past month!!! (The first being a letter in support of the Sirius and XM merger)

I happen to do business which in part entails conference calls. I use a service called freeconferencecall.com because it is simple effective and free of monthly charges outside my long distance or cell charges. The service works great because you can create conference calls on the fly and are not encumbered by having to schedule them, etc.

The service provides a simple solution when trying to put together a quick conversation among clients various locations. Now Cingular/AT&T, Sprint/Nextel, and Qwest are blocking these numbers and leaving frustrated customers in their wake.

There are likely some SSG readers who use such services as well, and I wanted to let you know about this so that you are not taken by surprise when trying to get a conference call going. The actions taken by these phone companies are very anti-consumer, and their explanation leaves a lot to be desired.

Fri, 03/16/2007 - 10:13 —

Consumer group release on number blocking by Cingular

For Immediate Release: Thursday, March 15th, 2007Contact: Beth McConnell, PennPIRG at 215-732-3747 (o) or 267-918-7207 (c)

AT&T/Cingular blocking its wireless customers from dialing in to free conference call services PennPIRG calls on AT&T/Cingular to restore service to legitimate phone numbers PennPIRG has learned that AT&T/Cingular recently began blocking phone numbers on its wireless service used by consumers to access free conference call services, such as those provided by Free Conference Call.com. The telephone giant has argued that calls to free conference call services are resulting in millions of dollars in losses to the company due to re-routing and termination fees, and has sued free conference call services and local phone companies in Iowa over the fees.

“AT&T/Cingular should not hold consumers hostage in their billing dispute with free conference call services. The company is penalizing their customers for using their phones to access a legal service,” said Beth McConnell, PennPIRG Director. “If getting out of a cell phone contract were easy, AT&T/Cingular would never dare take this anti-consumer step.” McConnell also noted that Cingular offers competing conference call services for its cellular customers.

AT&T/Cingular is informing customers who complain that the company made the decision “because of billing issues,” “charges associated with calling certain numbers,” and because Free Conference Call.com numbers are “circumventing their billing practices.”

After receiving a tip from a consumer in Illinois who was blocked from accessing a conference call on his cellular phone, PennPIRG confirmed the practice with several customer service representatives at Cingular/AT&T, as well as with customer service at Free Conference Call.com. PennPIRG also confirmed the blocks by calling several phone numbers used by Free Conference Call.com on a Cingular cellular phone.

According to PennPIRG’s research, AT&T/Cingular had not yet blocked all phone numbers as of Tuesday, March 13th. Customer service representatives informed consumers that AT&T/Cingular was blocking new numbers as they learned of them. As far as PennPIRG has been able to learn, the number-blocking practice began sometime around March 9th, 2007. The consumer group is unaware of any other cellular phone carriers engaging in a similar practice, or if the numbers are also blocked on AT&T’s land line service.

McConnell noted that AT&T’s anti-consumer action in this context has broad implications. “This is an example of what is at stake in the fight for Internet freedom -- a corporation’s financial interests limiting consumer choice and access to legitimate, publicly available services. AT&T, of course, is one of the companies opposed to Internet freedom,” said McConnell.

PennPIRG called on AT&T/Cingular to restore service to legitimate business phone numbers, and called on regulators at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to determine if AT&T/Cingular has violated any laws in blocking phone numbers.

PennPIRG is a citizen-funded non-profit public interest advocacy group. For more information, visit www.pennpirg.org

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3/16/2007 09:21:00 PM

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