Iowa Telcos get date with FCC

The Iowa telcos embroiled in a legal tussle with AT&T over the so-called Free Calling services will get a chance to air their grievances with FCC chairman Kevin Martin next week, according to one of the telcos.

Josh Nelson, president of the Spencer, Iowa-based Great Lakes Communication Corp., said Wednesday that his firm, along with others represented by Washington attorney Jonathan Canis, are scheduled to meet with chairman Martin April 18 or 19, and with the rest of the commissioners afterwards. Specifically, Great Lakes and the others want the FCC to tell big telcos not to block calls into their numbers, and are also seeking some help in getting AT&T and Qwest to pay their outstanding bills for interconnection services.

When asked how he thought the 11-employee strong Great Lakes might fare against a business and legal behemoth like AT&T, Nelson said that legal precedent, as well as current regulations, were on his company’s side.

“We’re operating under current rules and tariffs, and believe there are precedents set on this [issue] already,” said Nelson. “We’re going to make our comments known and hope the FCC will take action.”

While the commission certainly could issue a consent decree keeping AT&T and other telcos from blocking calls — a la the Madison River/Vonage case — there may be less the FCC can do to force AT&T and Qwest to pay up on the bills charged by the Iowa telcos, since AT&T and Qwest are challenging those charges in court.

AT&T, meanwhile, has started its own communication with the FCC, in a formal letter sent to chairman Martin. An AT&T spokesperson confirmed that the company’s wireless arm has stopped its selective blocking of calls into the Iowa services.

On the PR side, Great Lakes and the Iowa bunch are starting to show that they can give as good as they get; while the AT&T letter to Martin makes prominent mention of how the Iowa telcos “offer kickbacks to operators of pornographic chat lines,” Great Lakes has started its own blog, and is issuing press releases where the company notes that non-profit organizations like the California Hunger Action Coalition and religious communities like the Amish and Mennonites in Iowa might lose communications tools due to the big telcos’ blocking actions.

Not sure how all those groups play into telecom regulations, but it may mean for a fairly entertaining hearing before the FCC, should all the afflicted or accused parties attend.