The big guns of racing will hold centre stage in the 44th running of the Alex’s Imports Gold Cup feature over 1400 metres at Caymanas Park on Saturday. Eleven entries were received for the popular grade-one race that dates back to 1967, when the legendary KILOWATT won the inaugural running. The star-studded field includes last year’s winner, POTCHEEN, the reigning champion sprinter; Horse of the Year TYPEWRITER; the 2013 Derby and St Leger winner PERFECT NEIGHBOUR; the bang- in-form imported horses UPPA TUNE and FORTUNEONEHUNDRED, UNCLE TAF as well as PETE’SWILDONE; and this year’s St Leger winner, SUPERLUMINAL. CTL’s racing secretary, Denzil Miller Jr, said “with the very best on show, it’s a race worth going miles to see”. He was quick to add: “The Gold Cup, for a purse of $1.6 million, kick-starts what promises to be a fantastic last quarter of racing on the calendar, what with the $10.55m Supreme Ventures 2-Y-O Triple Crown Series commencing on Monday (Heroes Day), followed by the prestigious Superstakes on Saturday, November 14, and the inaugural running of the Diamond Mile, with a record purse of $13.5 million on Saturday, December 5. “No other period in the history of racing at Caymanas Park has seen so many major races in the offing and coming at the back end of the season. It will provide a feast for racing fans,” he added. Veteran trainer Harry Parsard, whose top horses POTCHEEN and UPPA TUNE have won a number of grade-one trophy races this season, says neither can be taken lightly despite the strength of the opposition. “Potcheen ran on strongly to win the race with a light impost last year ahead of stable companions UPPA TUNE and PETE’SWILDONE in a memorable sweep, and although set to carry topweight of 57.0kg on Saturday, this will not deter him,” said Parsard. “Uppa Tune, on the other hand, is versatile and consistent as they come and being a better horse this year, should enter the reckoning in a big way,” added Parsard, who will have two other runners in SUPERLUMINAL and PETE’SWILDONE. Two-time Superstakes winner TYPEWRITER could only manage fifth as the 2-1 favourite under topweight of 57.0kg last year, but is coming to run, with 56.0kg this time around, for trainer Spencer Chung. Champion trainer Wayne DaCosta will saddle two strong contenders in recent Governor General’s Stakes winner PERFECT NEIGHBOUR (55.0kg) and the speedy American colt, FORTUNEONEHUNDRED, who will have to be caught. Both are coming off recent wins and should make the race all the more interesting. Strong performers
The Web site for Wayland, Iowa, boasts of “clean, well-kept homes,” but the telephone lines running through town pulse with sultry talk on adult chat lines and a strange number of conference calls. There’s nothing particularly steamy or talkative about this city of fewer than 1,000 people, just a quirk in telecommunications law that gets certain large phone companies all hot and bothered. Wayland is one of at least 25 mostly Midwestern towns, about half of them in remote corners of Iowa, where the volume of incoming calls from other area codes has surged to a level that would be hard to explain even if every resident had taken to chatting long distance day and night. Instead, the spike in long-distance calls can be traced to assorted dial-in services with local phone numbers, from providers of free conference calling to chat lines with names like “Alibi” and “Butt Monkey.” Despite their differences, both sides agree on the basic facts in the escalating tussle. All agree, for example, that pennies add up quickly. AT&T and Verizon typically get billed just thousands of dollars or less per month to connect long-distance calls with a sparsely populated town, paying 2 cents or more per minute in termination charges to the local phone company. Since a growing number of consumers have regular phones and cell phones with unlimited long distance or large monthly buckets of minutes, it often costs them nothing to call rural area codes. The carriers swallow the charges as a cost of doing business. But now some rural carriers are billing the big phone companies hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars per month, sharing that revenue with partners that help drive long-distance calls onto their networks: Web sites promoting free services such as FreeConferenceCall.com and Talkee.com, a party line provider. Though usually based elsewhere, these services direct their customers to dial phone numbers in remote locales. The bounty from these partnerships can be striking for rural phone companies, many of which would struggle to make ends meet without the supplemental income that the government steers their way from the universal service surcharges that urban dwellers pay on their phone bills. Farmers Telephone of Riceville proudly reports that the long-distance traffic coming onto its local network for conference calls surged from fewer than 1.5 million minutes in April 2005 to nearly 25 million in October 2006. But in recent months, incoming traffic slowed sharply as AT&T and Sprint Nextel Corp. began blocking their cell phone customers from calling some dial-in services, while Qwest Communications International Inc. told companies that use its long-distance network it wouldn’t complete their calls to such numbers. In Riceville, conferencing traffic has fallen 30 percent, totaling 18 million minutes in March. In Lake Park and Milford, also in northern Iowa, Great Lakes Communications Corp. says its long-distance traffic fell off 50 percent from the start of the year. At least three long-distance companies also began withholding payment on invoices from rural carriers. A group of these companies from Iowa say they are collectively owed $40 million. The obligatory lawsuits have been traded, and both sides have appealed for government intervention. At issue is the system by which rural telephone companies with relatively few customers are compensated for keeping their distant corners of the nation connected. For two years, the FCC has been examining how to overhaul the system, but no end to those deliberations is in sight. Since the 1930s, when Congress set as public policy the goal of ensuring affordable phone service for every home, the government has allowed rural carriers to charge higher per-minute rates to long-distance companies for connecting their calls to the local network. The rural rates typically range from 2 cents a minute to perhaps a nickel, though they occasionally exceed a dime. By contrast, AT&T, Verizon and Qwest get paid closer to half a cent per minute when they connect one of their local customers to a long-distance call from another provider. The extra revenue enables the nation’s smallest carriers – there are roughly 500 companies with fewer than 2,000 phone lines – to generate a profit without jacking up local rates. Farmers Telephone of Riceville gets paid 5 cents per minute, which means the jump in conference call traffic alone was generating almost $1.25 million a month in revenue at the peak. The company passes on about half of that money to the conferencing providers. Most small carriers get 2 cents per minute by participating in a pool run by the National Exchange Carrier Association. NECA proposes its rate by submitting data on operating costs and past call volume to the FCC. If no objections are raised by other carriers or the FCC, the rates take effect for one year. But carriers are free to exit the NECA pool and propose their own rates with the FCC, and there’s been a dramatic spike in the number doing so, suggesting that more rural phone companies may be looking to provide a home for free call-in services. While their motivations remain unknown, 41 companies have informed NECA they are leaving the pool to file their own rates for the two-year period starting in July. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Qwest essentially view the situation as a bait and switch. In a letter to the FCC, AT&T charged that the local companies use the system to “establish grossly excessive access charges under false pretenses” and then “offer kickbacks to operators of pornographic chat lines and other calling services.” When it comes time to recalculate rates after two years, AT&T’s letter says, the offending carriers don’t submit new data to the FCC detailing their spike in long-distance traffic, “which would result in massive rate decreases.” Instead, “they simply hop back into the NECA pool” so they can charge the group rate. The rural phone companies more or less concur – and make no apology. They say FCC rules clearly allow them to pursue this business opportunity, and that they’re not responsible for any miscalculations long-distance companies made in not anticipating this possibility or pricing the calling plans they sell customers accordingly. “We’re creating a reason for their customers to make a call and use the minutes the big carriers are selling them,” said David Erickson, president of Free Conference Call Holdings Corp. “Theyre the ones in control of charging the customer …. These unlimited plans are profitable plans. Qwest’s annual report boasts about how many customers it’s brought them.” They’d also like to see their big rivals explain “how their conference services differ from what the Iowa (companies) are doing,” said Jonathan Canis, a partner at the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, which is representing some of the rural phone companies and calling services. The rural phone companies say the number blocking and withheld payments set a dangerous precedent that empowers the major phone companies to deny consumers access to competing services. AT&T warns that the situation could force higher rates for all its customers across the country to offset what the company estimates may add up to $250 million in extra costs during 2007. All sides are urging quick FCC action, including some small phone companies that oppose their Iowa peers: Four of them signed a letter to the commission saying the dial-in partnerships could ruin the rate system for everyone. Qwest filed a formal complaint on Wednesday, and AT&T may soon follow suit. The FCC declined comment on any specifics of the overall dispute or the Qwest complaint, which targets the local carrier in Wayland, Farmers & Merchants Mutual Telephone Co. That company didn’t return a call seeking comment. But the FCC may not rush to further action beyond its speedy warning to the long-distance companies that “self-help” measures like call blocking are not allowed. Instead, it may leave the rate dispute to the courts rather than weigh in on one aspect of a thorny issue amid the agency’s broader effort to overhaul the system. So for now, the phone lines to Iowa are open, steamy or otherwise.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! For reasons of economics – not family values – the nation’s biggest phone companies are trying to put a stop to these calls, even going so far as to block their customers from dialing long distance to hundreds of numbers in the testy dispute. The blocking largely ceased after a firm prod by the Federal Communications Commission, which has been struggling for two years to overhaul the arcane system by which pennies per minute change hands between phone companies with every long-distance call. Long-distance providers like AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are charging abuse of that system, which helps ensure phone service for every home in the most secluded parts of the country. They say customers everywhere could face rate hikes. The Iowa companies, pleased with the revenue from these calls, accuse the long-distance providers of sour grapes and really bad business judgment. They warn that consumers could lose access to useful, affordable services. “What AT&T and Sprint and Verizon may not like is the fact that it’s successful,” said Ronald Laudner, chief executive of Farmers Telephone Co. of Riceville, Iowa.