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FCC Tariff Changes Mean No More Free Conference Calls 76

kgeiger writes "The FCC is changing the call termination tariffs that subsidized rural wireline service and coincidentally free conference calls. Free conference call services had located their dial-in centers in rural areas to scoop up FCC tariffs from its Universal Service Fund. USF monies will go to broadband deployment instead. Be prepared to put more nickels in the box." On the other hand, maybe ad-driven Internet services (whether free or "freemium") will step in to the free-conference gap with some good-enough options, as they have for many other services, like email and faxing.
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FCC Tariff Changes Mean No More Free Conference Calls

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  • by alphatel ( 1450715 ) * on Saturday July 21, 2012 @01:20PM (#40724435)
    With the amount of email I get from free internet conference call providers, I am sure they will have no problem telling me about it for months.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday July 21, 2012 @01:26PM (#40724477)

    I remember them. Back in the old days.

    Get off my lawn, kid!

    • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Saturday July 21, 2012 @02:29PM (#40724837)

      I still use old telephone service for dialup. $7/month and unlimited data. None of those 3 GB caps for me! LOL.

      • I still use old telephone service for dialup. $7/month and unlimited data. None of those 3 GB caps for me!

        The shocking result being that at typical modem speeds (30-57 kbps), this would be about 7½-14GB running it 24/7 for a month. You'd end up looking at the "buffering" text for most of a movie, but the total capacity of the link would be greater than that for many higher speed plans in the US.

        • by jbolden ( 176878 )

          Even on 56k modems I rarely got anything like 30kbs. I think about 12k was pretty much the max I ever got. DSL was a huge step up.

          • 56K modems (V.90 and V.92) depend on supporting equipment at the telco's central office, as well as requiring the ISP to have a special digital connection to the CO at their end. Basically, it works by using digital transmission from the ISP to your CO, and then analog just on your subscriber loop. The problem is that in the remote areas where people still depend on dialup, the central offices often aren't equipped for digital data. (Or at least they weren't back in the days when people were adopting 56K m
            • by jbolden ( 176878 )

              Thanks you good information. I have no idea whether my telco had supporting equipment or not. I had University provided ISPs after about 1990 or so, so I doubt they had special equipment for student speed. I don't remember when I switched to DSL / Cable modem I'm thinking about '97 certainly by '99.

        • >>>14GB running it 24/7 for a month

          Oh yeah. Many hotels I visit don't have any internet except the phoneline. I download 5-6 TV episodes per day over the dialup internet and watch them when I get back to the room. No need to worry about a 3GB cellphone cap.

          And to jholden: You must have crap lines. I routinely get 53.3 kbit/s connections on my modem (i.e the maximum). There was only one time I didn't, but that was an old rundown hotel built in the 60s or 70s. Even when I made voicecalls I co

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      More and more businesses moves over to IP phone solutions for their telephony. Skype has already had that feature for a long time now.

      So I don't think that it will have much impact for most businesses.

      • by jbolden ( 176878 )

        I use it. I don't like the latency and jitter on IP based phone solutions when you talk to 3rd parties. Add cell phone latency to that and it can really uncomfortable. PSTN solutions like free conferencing are much better. If I lose my free conferencing I be willing to pay for a conference calling solution if it were reasonable.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 21, 2012 @01:29PM (#40724497)

    You mean, the funds will go to the same bullshit fund that subsidized telcos to the tune of BILLIONS of dollars to expand high-speed infrastructure and reach, which they then pocketed and did nothing with? Fuck you.

    • Came here to say that, Over in one...
    • by Zadaz ( 950521 ) on Saturday July 21, 2012 @03:42PM (#40725153)

      Well, I live out in the middle of freaking nowhere. The best Internet access we can get here is GSM. (Sometimes, depending on the weather. We're a long ways from the tower.) We can't even get satellite here because the phone lines for the terrestrial upstream aren't good enough to transmit data.

      At least that was until last week when they laid fiber. And now we can actually, you know, use the internet without driving half an hour. Which is great because one of us out here is in a wheel chair and that half hour drive to town is no insignificant challenge.

      Turn off your internet for a week, see how much different your life is. Now try a year. At this point not having internet access in the US means you don't even know about most popular culture.

      So some of the money was spent. And it was spent on something that we never could have gotten any other way, and we are very grateful to everyone who subsidized it.

      • >>>We can't even get satellite here because the phone lines for the terrestrial upstream aren't good enough to transmit data.

        I thought Internet Satellites now uplink direct from the dish? Also how bad can your phone lines be? I've experienced 19kbit/s connections, and yes it was slow, but it still worked well enough to upload a mouse click on a web element.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        It's nice for you that you got your piece of public funded squeeze. Were you ever thinking of paying that back?

        My view is that it's not the job of society to provide you internet. You got it anyway. At this point, the moral thing would be to pay back the costs of getting that internet, above whatever you currently pay in taxes.
        • by Kalriath ( 849904 ) on Saturday July 21, 2012 @09:25PM (#40726967)

          When governments start demanding that all interaction with them be online, it suddenly becomes a necessity that all citizens have internet.

          • by khallow ( 566160 )
            That's not true in the US, especially not at the bandwidth that the original poster obtained. But the original poster already indicated that they were able to do interactions online, but that it was inconvenient for them to do so.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Use skype, voip conf calls or mumble you idiots.

  • Bah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Saturday July 21, 2012 @02:03PM (#40724699) Homepage Journal
    Just locate your free conference call center and China and fund it by spying on the meetings and selling corporate secrets to the highest bidder. Everybody's happy, problem solved!
  • by ckaylin ( 193523 ) * on Saturday July 21, 2012 @02:12PM (#40724745)

    Sadly, the IEEE did not do its research when publishing this blatant promotion for Speek.

    The free conference companies absolutely do NOT receive money from the Universal Service Fund, either directly or indirectly. In fact, they collect taxes from end users that contribute to this fund.

    Free conference companies make money indirectly from access fees, which are paid to the rural telephone company via tariffs, the very mechanism that underpins our entire public switched telephone network. There is nothing nefarious, or even remotely illegal about this. In fact, in its recent ruling the FCC made it explicitly clear that this practice is legitimate.

    The term “traffic pumping” is used by companies that compete with the free conference providers to attempt to put this practice in a negative light. In fact, anyone that hopes to receive a telephone call (e.g. almost every business that has a telephone number) engages in “traffic pumping”.

    Who is opposed to the free conference providers? The long distance companies (who operate their own high-cost conference services), Speek (who offers a competing service), and anyone else who charges more money for less service. The simple fact is that if the free conference services have successfully commoditized what was once a high cost service.

    • You say the conference companies don't collect from the USF that provides access fees to hook-up rural users, and then go on to explain how they do ("make money indirectly from access fees"). I'm confused about your point? Also what free conference company do you work for?

      • by ckaylin ( 193523 ) * on Saturday July 21, 2012 @02:45PM (#40724911)

        I work for FreeConference

        The USF is not an "access fee", it's a tax. Companies like FreeConference do benefit from access fees, which is the settlement mechanism present in virtually all calls you make and receive. Carriers charge each other access fees to transport a call through the network. When AT&T hands off a call to a local exchange carrier (LEC), the LEC gets a small piece of the bill they collect from their customer. This is how it has worked at least since the telecom reforms of 1996. Just about any call you make on the public switched telephone network generates access fees for all the entities that handle your call. However, if all those entities are AT&T, AT&T doesn't complain about it. When they have to hand off the call to an independent, entrepreneurial LEC, they scream bloody murder.

        USF is entirely different. This is a tax, not a tarif, and although some rural LECs benefit from that, that money does NOT flow to conference service providers.

        • Yes but if you read the article (yeah I know), it says the LEC pays the conference company out of the USF.

    • by jbolden ( 176878 )

      Thank you for a knowledgeable comment.

    • The ones complaining are the ones who have to pay 10 cents a minute or more for you to hang out in a sex chat room or MLM marketing meeting for an hour. A $6.00 a week or more on a unlimited cell plan makes some customers unprofitable. Free phone services that are not advertised as a phone service such as many SIP, Skype, Magic Jack, Google Voice, etc. don't eat the cost. They simply either don't complete the call, or have a termination in the rural exchange so it is a local call not subject to the tariff

  • I don't even have POTS and it isn't even available in my building (we have fiber only with optional IP phone service). I wouldn't even know how to hold a conference call over standrad phone service. For video conferencing we've switched to good webcams and Google Hangout. Skype is fine for voice. There are more VOIP providers than there are species of fish. Seriously, if you're so outdated you shouldn't be making conference calls in the first places.

    • by icebike ( 68054 ) *

      There are more VOIP providers than there are species of fish.

      Ok, fair warning, I'm officially stealing that line.

      But you do have POTS whether you know it or not. It may not be on your premises, but that's not the issue.
      If you can call a POTS number from your Voip, you can dial into a conference call.

      • Aaaah, I didn't think of that sort of situation. Thanks for pointing that out.

        Of course it still doesn't change the fact I would have no idea how to dial in to a conference call in the first place.

        • by icebike ( 68054 ) *

          How hard can pushing buttons on a phone be?

          Remember when you last ordered up a pizza for delivery?
          It's the same thing.

          • Yes in what order do I press these buttons? How does one set up a conference call? Do all participating parties dial in to the conference call or is there a "master" which dials out? Do you need special hardware?

            These are all things I don't know, and really don't care to know, because it is knowledge that has already been antiquated. So don't bother answering.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      VoIP is just the technology. Your end can connected via IP, the call flows through the network at least partially via switched packer network (rather than TDM). But unfortunately the US has failed to take it to the next level and use something like ENUM ( to connect callers directly via IP. Rather, if you call another VoIP user at another carrier, a cell phone subscriber or a land line, you call flows through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN)

  • No more government subsidy for calls received == a shortfall for Verizon == they will raise my rates. Oh well. The USF is probably better-diverted to the hookup of rural internet anyway.

  • by Poisonous Drool ( 526798 ) on Saturday July 21, 2012 @03:49PM (#40725197)

    The way termination fees used to work was that you paid your long distance carrier 10 cents a minute for a long distance phone call. The LD carrier shared that ten cents with the local phone companies on both sides of the call. The shared amount vary but a penny to each side was a common amount. The FCC granted a abnormally high fee to rural telephone companies of about five cents a minute. A call from a big city to the country was split 1 cent to the big city telco, 4 cents to the long distance carrier, and 5 cents to the rural telco. The long distance companies didn't make as much money on a call to or from a rural phone company but the amount of traffic was small.

    There was also a termination fee for local calls, but it was much less than a penny. Various companies began to "exploit" the termination fees. The guys with lots of modems were some of the first (e.g. whoever AOL outsourced their modems to). The free conference guys figured out you could make good money as well. Remember that conference call companies charged 25 cents a minute, so it was cheaper to pay 10 cents a minute for a long distance call to a free conference service. If they were efficient, they could even make money at 1 cent per minute, but 5 cents was much better so they located in rural areas.

    The large telcos started to change their models for long distance from per-minute to a block of minutes (e.g. 500 minutes for $$ per month). The local telcos mostly took over the long distance business so now the telcos were cutting checks to the free conference guys and not getting anything back. Telcos hate that. So they stopped paying or arbitrarily started paying 50 cents on the dollar. They also lobbied to change the rules. And here we are with the FCC tariff change.

    (Universal Service Fees are different. They are one of many taxes on your phone bill. The taxes are used to subsidize the phone bills for the "poor".)

    I do not run a free conference service (or free anything), but the death star and friends owe me about $50k and I'm very very small.

  • by butlerm ( 3112 ) on Saturday July 21, 2012 @04:53PM (#40725557)

    In the 1990s, when Internet access from homes was mostly by dial-up, those lucrative âoetermination fees,â as theyâ(TM)re called, led to a proliferation of Internet service providers

    This claim is dubious, to put it mildly. The termination fees were paid to the terminating telephone company. The ISP had nothing to do with it. In some cases this may have allowed CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers) to provide slightly lower rates to independent ISPs, but that is hardly the sort of thing that would lead to a proliferation of ISPs by itself.

    The real reason for the proliferation of ISPs is that the phone companies themselves dragged their feet as long as possible on providing anything other than ordinary dialup service. ISP startup costs were relatively low, demand was very high, and at the time ISP service came with all sorts of value added features to allow ISPs to distinguish themselves from their competition.

    In addition, if the FCC didn't wildly misread the Communications Act of 1934 at the prompting of the phone companies, there would still be a large number of independent ISPs. Internet access is not an information service, it is a telecommunications service.

    • by zentec ( 204030 ) *

      It is partially correct.

      Prior to the advent of 56K modems and their need for PRI service, ISPs had to invest capital in terminal servers and modems to put at remote sites, and haul the data back and forth on leased lines to provide local service. The CLECs offered cut rate PRI service (and not to mention avoiding the pain of having to deal with an incumbent carrier who by default installed PRIs with bit-robbing signalling, which kills 56K modems) and because they gained in termination fees, covered wide g

  • The USF has yet to help my family secure a simple POTS line.

    Eight years ago, we moved to an sparsely populated area, for reasons that are not germane to this discussion.

    When we (because of health worries) asked the ILEC for an estimate to provide POTS to our residence, I was given an estimate of US$250k to $275k for a line. I (jokingly) said, "Bring three. They're small."

    Cell phone signals are very *iffy* here, even though we spent US$2k for a commercial repeater.

    HughesNet is a joke, too. It is unreliabl

    • by ZosX ( 517789 )

      I've long dreamed about living far off the grid, but lack of internet access has been the real problem. Satellite just isn't going to cut it for me, no matter how you look at it. I can get by with a cellular data plan, but as you say, cellular service is iffy at best. If there aren't any people, there's no incentive for them to build towers. Its a shame. I dream of a cabin in the middle of some beautiful mountains, but don't want to be cut off at the same time.

  • I don't even have a POTS connection.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.