Ten rural local exchange carriers (RLECs) and four conference call operators have been named as defendants in a lawsuit, filed by Sprint Nextel, that accuses the companies of participating in a “traffic pumping” scheme that resulted in the passage of fraudulent access charges to Sprint. The lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, represents the newest front in Sprint’s ongoing battle against alleged abuses of the FCC’s intercarrier compensation system by rural carriers, which are permitted under FCC rules to charge higher per-minute rates to connect long-distance customers to local networks. Typically, interexchange providers such as Sprint Nextel pay about a half-cent per minute to local exchange carriers to connect long distance customers to the local network. RLECs, however, can impose fees of two-to-five cents per minute (or even more) for the same service. According to the complaint filed by Sprint, various conference call operators that advertise free chat line services and that are based in major markets such as Los Angeles obtained rural area codes in Iowa through which callers (including customers of Sprint Nextel and other interexchange companies) were routed. At the same time, the Iowa RLECs named in the suit adopted long distance access charges of 13-cents per minute or more that are significantly higher than access charges imposed by other rural carriers. The suit accuses the Iowa RLECs and the conference call operators of acting in concert to drive long distance traffic artificially (through the lure of “free” chat services) to the RLEC networks, forcing Sprint Nextel and other interexchange carriers to pay inflated access charges that the RLECs would split with the conference call companies. In a statement on the lawsuit, Sprint warned that, “left unchecked, such schemes will grow and force carriers to abandon the unlimited long distance pricing plans that consumers have embraced and benefited from over the past decade.” Declaring that the arrangement is legal, a spokesman for the RLECs proclaimed, “we are sticking to our guns and have the law on our side.”