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Where Have All the Minutes Gone? Asymmetric Telecom Liberalization, Carrier Alliances, and Gaming of International Settlements


  • Marius Schwartz

    (Georgetown University)

  • David Malueg

    (Tulane University)


Inflated retail prices and termination rates for international telecommunications have spawned traffic re-routing practices, including call turnaround (e.g., callback) and re-origination via third countries. The US and other liberalized countries that allow telecom competition favor such practices, as undermining foreign monopolists. This view is seriously incomplete; re-routing practices ultimately may favor monopolists. Specifically, we show the following: (1) Re-routing practices, especially turnaround, can help foreign monopolists-allied with carriers in the US (or other liberalized markets)-to divert termination payments from nonalliance carriers by gaming the International Settlements Policy; the ISP aims to bolster competitive carriers in dealing with monopolists, by requiring equal termination rates at both ends and "proportional return" (traffic from the monopolist is terminated by US carriers in proportion to their shares of traffic to that country, not at the monopolist's discretion). (2) Gaming the ISP harms not only other carriers but typically also callers. (3) Proportional return creates distortions even without foreign gaming: it penalizes larger carriers; and because of it, callback from the US can reduce US welfare even when callback is motivated by "innocent" arbitrage. We present a simple linear-pricing alternative to the ISP that eliminates these distortions, yet benefits both countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Marius Schwartz & David Malueg, 1998. "Where Have All the Minutes Gone? Asymmetric Telecom Liberalization, Carrier Alliances, and Gaming of International Settlements," Industrial Organization 9808002, EconWPA.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpio:9808002
    Note: Type of Document - Microsoft Word 97; prepared on Mac; to print on HP; figures: included on figs2-4.0appendi.x72 tab70.doc fig1.xls . Malueg: Department of Economics, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118, e-mail: Schwartz: Department of Economics, Georgetown University, Washington DC 20057, e-

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Wallsten, Scott J., 2000. "Telecom traffic and investment in developing countries : the effects of international settlement rate reductions," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2401, The World Bank.
    2. Sean Ennis, 2006. "Competition and Price Dispersion in International Long-distance Calling," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 29(3), pages 303-317, May.

    More about this item


    International Telecom; Termination Payments; Alliances;

    JEL classification:

    • L96 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Telecommunications
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets

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