How VoIP Hits the Sticks

Rural carriers complain that telecom giants are turning to the Net to dodge access fees. That could mean big trouble for the small fry

The town of Forestville sits close to Lake Michigan along the Door Peninsula, a rural swath of northern Wisconsin known for luscious cherries and miles of untrammeled shorelines. It's a quiet hamlet of 500 -- and one battleground in a war over rural phone service that will have wide-ranging consequences. On one side of the conflict are the big long-distance companies such as AT&T (T ), Sprint (FON ), and MCI, which have to pay an access fee every time they hand off a call from their networks to a local carrier. In the 20 years since Ma Bell was broken up, those fees have added up to hundreds of billions of dollars.

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