It sounds too good to be true: free conference call meetings.
As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In fact, when it comes to holding a free
conference call, there's a good, bad, and ugly side. Let's start with the good.
Free Conference Calling - The Good
Holding conference call meetings with your colleagues allows you to communicate with a geographically diverse group
of people over the telephone. With a free conference call, not only does the meeting over the phone save you money,
it doesn't cost you anything! Theoretically, all participants call a free local phone number and can communicate
without incurring any additional fees. Almost.
Free Conference Calling - The Bad
However, one has to wonder how a service can be completely free. After all, businesses are in business to make
a profit and you can't make a profit if you don't sell anything. This leads us to the bad: your free conference
call may not be as free as you think.
For example, some free conference calling plans do not provide callers with toll free numbers to call. While the
call may be free for those in local calling area, anyone outside of the area will have to pay their own long distance
carriers' standard long distance calling rates. When callers are responsible for paying their own way, they may
be less likely to join the meeting; for those that do call in may limit their time and they may exit the call prematurely
due to concerns about cost.
In addition, many free conference call plans limit the number of participants or have other limitations that may
compel the customer to upgrade to a paid service plan, also offered by the free conference call company, after
the customer's first experience with the free conference call plan. Other complaints range from participants being
cut off, bad connections, attendees cannot connect to the call, no customer service, etc.
Another way that free conference call companies make money by offering free conference calls is by selling advertising.
When you host your conference call meetings with free services that use advertising to generate revenue, all of
the participants must listen to an annoying advertisement.
In summary, free conference call plans may equal brain damage for newbie free conference call users.
Free Conference Calling - The Ugly
And yet, another concern involves a practice where free conference calling services make deals with local carriers
to split the connection fees paid by the long distance carrier to connect to the local number. These fees are a
standard part of the heavily regulated telecommunications industry. When you make a long distance call, including
a free conference call to a long distance phone number, your long distance carrier must pay a fee to the local
carrier to connect to that phone number. Because local connection fees vary, it's plausible that a free conference
calling service could contract with a high fee carrier and then split the difference.
What do these backroom deals mean to you? In the past, callers have been blocked from attending conference call
meetings by their long distance carriers who dispute the practice. In addition, the higher costs incurred by long
distance carriers could be passed on to consumers across the board, resulting in higher long distance costs for
everyone. In 2007, AT&T/Cingular is reported to have blocked callers to a free conference call provider's long
distance numbers. That same year, AT&T was reportedly stuck with a phone bill for connection fees in Iowa that
went from about $2000 one month to $2 million the next apparently due to a free calling service having exploited
a loophole in the interconnection process.
Free Conference Call - There's no free lunch
"There were complaints from our guests that called-in using the free access local numbers provided by the
free conference call company. The calls were not free to our attendees, they got a bill from their local foreign
phone company. Probably great for a casual call between people where the host don't mind if the other people on
the call need to pay or not. We had connections problems, one of our clients could not get on the call and the
line quality was hardly acceptable."