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Level 3 wants access charge exemption

The Internet telephone service provider asks for relief from rules that determine how much telephone companies charge each other, according to a recent FCC filing.

Internet telephone service provider Level 3 Communications has asked the Federal Communications Commission for relief from rules determining how much telephone companies charge each other, according to a recent FCC filing.

The company wants to be exempt from "access charges," a reference to an FCC formula for determining how much telephone service providers pay each other when calls have to cross between different networks. The petition argues that the current set of charges force Level 3 to pay telephone companies much more than they actually spend completing the call.

An FCC spokesman could not be reached late Monday for comment.

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Level 3's request supplies additional pressure on the FCC to decide whether its phone rules apply to voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a technology for making cheaper phone calls with the Internet Protocol, the world's most popular method for sending data between computers.

Carriers are already embracing VoIP as a way to cut traffic costs on international and long-distance calls, and it is expected to eventually replace the public switched telephone network, as big phone companies convert to IP-based fiber-optic networks. Currently, about 11 percent of all voice traffic is classified as VoIP, although fewer than 1 percent of those calls are initiated on a VoIP phone.

Level 3 is a VoIP wholesaler whose clients include overseas telephone companies that want to offer international dialing to North American telephone service providers. It's also partnered with SBC and other North American phone companies to sell an Internet Protocol-based phone service directly to businesses.

It's the fourth Internet phone provider to request some form of access charge relief. The others are AT&T, Vonage and .