AT&T/Cingular blocking wireless customers from dialing in to free conference call services

[via PennPIRG]

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 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 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 PennPIRG also confirmed the blocks by calling several phone numbers used by Free Conference on a Cingular cellular phone.

According to PennPIRG’s research, AT&T/Cingular had not yet blocked all phone numbers as of Tuesday, March 13 th. 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 9 th, 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

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