Unlike some of the free-calling concerns who folded their tents at the first sign of legal pressure, FreeConference.com is going to fight for its rights, shown in part by its filing of an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T.
The lawsuit, filed last Friday in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., mainly asks the court to immediately order AT&T to stop blocking calls from its wireless subscribers to FreeConference.com’s access numbers. The blocking of calls, which AT&T says is permissible under its terms of service agreements, has caused no small amount of controversy and seems headed for an eventual debate at the FCC.
Recognizing, however, that the deliberative process might take more time than they can afford, FreeConference.com went ahead seeking the injunction, which it claims is necessary due to AT&T’s alleged infractions of antitrust law as well as the Communications Act. As its suit says:
Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief in part because there is no adequate remedy at law to prevent the imminent destruction of FreeConference’s business and reputation on account of AT&T’s unlawful self-help and unilateral refusal to deal with FreeConference’s customers…
Several of the Internet-based free-calling operations, including FuturePhone and FonPods, went offline after becoming the focus of pressure from AT&T lawsuits. FreeConference.com, however, is showing more resiliency, both in comments from CEO Alex Cory on previous posts and on the company’s website, where it has a FAQ page detailing its side of the issue.
Cory was not available Tuesday to comment on the lawsuit. , and AT&T representatives have not yet responded to a request for comments. UPDATE: AT&T spokesperson Michael Balmoris has this to say about the lawsuit:
Their legal claims are baseless and their attempt to portray their fraudulent service as “free” is a sham. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and consumers and business customers are the ones who will be left holding the bag if these types of scams are allowed to continue.
According to FreeConference, AT&T has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.
UPDATE #2: FreeConference CEO Alex Cory adds this comment:
We offer customers a free conferencing service. The “sham” here is the story from Cingular/AT&T that they are paying excessive termination fees without mentioning that they are receiving long distance revenues for placing these calls. Our customers tell us they are paying Cingular a rate of 10 cents a minute if they stay within their allowed minutes, and
40 cents a minute if they go over. The rural telcos running free conferencing services are collecting about 4 cents per minute on average in publicly filed termination fees. AT&T should not be selectively blocking a call that a customer has paid for and should not be hiding
behind the false story that these are costs for which they don’t collect offsetting revenues.