The FCC’s Open Agenda: Connecting 100 Percent of Rural Long-Distance Calls

by Amber Robinson on November 20, 2013

Rural Phone Service - Google Creative CommonsOn October 28, the Federal Communications Commission declared its support of quality rural long-distance call completion. In the words of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, every American should have access to reliable communications. The Commissioners considered a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require service providers to submit rural call completion records to the FCC for monitoring by the Enforcement Bureau.

Then-Acting Chairwoman Clyburn and Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai issued statements regarding the proposed order that stressed the importance of quality service for long-distance communications.

Commissioner Clyburn noted that a lost long-distance call can strain relations between families and friends and create a loss of revenue for businesses. Commissioner Pai also pointed out that in some scenarios, a customer calls a number and hears nothing for five or six seconds before the line disconnects. He stated that this is unacceptable, whether the customer is using a landline, cellular phone, or VOiP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).

All three Commissioners emphasized the high stakes involved with dropped or incomplete calls. When doctors at nursing homes are unable to complete a call, or when calls to public safety officials cannot be completed, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Several key provisions are intended to bring rural phone communications up to par with communications provided in non-rural areas. For instance, the new rules will prevent phone service providers from transmitting an audible ring to a customer’s handset when the phone on the other end of the call is not actually ringing. Another provision will allow the FCC Rural Call Completion Task Force and the Enforcement Bureau to track incomplete calls to determine which factor may be contributing to the high rate of dropped or incomplete long-distance calls: higher-than-average charges for call termination in rural areas, the multiple times a call may be handed off among providers in a call path, or a combination of factors.

The Order and FNPRM, adopted October 28 and released on November 8 for Public Comment, requires providers to record and report rural call completion data to give the FCC information about this prevalent problem. The data will also be useful for providers and state regulators to identify issues and improve the quality of phone communications.

The Order also includes a safe harbor provision with incentives for providers to improve their call completion performance and seeks public comment on additional proposed reforms for autodialer traffic, intermediate providers, and other safe harbor options, waivers, and reporting requirements.

The FCC is taking several steps in the right direction for fixing call completion problems. By requiring providers to retain information about their call completion rates and to report the results, the FCC will have the data on intrastate connection that it needs to address these issues on a national level.

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