Commentary - July 24th, 2014
1:27 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Rural Call Completion Problems Persist

Have family and friends told you that they cannot get ahold of you on your phone? Did they say the phone rang and rang and rang, and no one answered?  Or maybe they said they heard a series of beeps or just dead air.  Yet you know you were home all evening and the telephone never rang.

Maybe you are a business owner experiencing an unusual drop in the number of incoming long distance calls. Perhaps you notice odd numbers on your caller ID or a pattern of malfunctioning faxes.

These are symptoms of a practice that has plagued rural consumers and rural companies across the country for too long.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) identifies this problem as Call Completion. Simply put, it means that long distance calls intended for you don’t get to you. This practice threatens the integrity of the Nation’s telecommunications network. It jeopardizes public safety. It affects our daily lives. It puts consumers at risk.

Rural telephone companies have been battling this nemesis for a number of years. State and Federal regulators have expressed their frustration and have taken some steps to try to curtail the problem. But it is still here. 

The call completion issue can be largely traced to a practice called least-cost routing. Long distance and wireless companies transit calls over a series of roads or routes connecting multiple intermediate points and facilities.  Some of these providers hand off calls destined for rural areas to whatever other provider offers them the lowest price. They hand off the call via the route of least-cost.

In many cases, these intermediate providers fail to route or transit the call to the ultimate destination. Rural telephone subscribers may receive calls of poor quality or they may not receive the calls at all.

A number of Montana’s local telephone companies have participated in nationwide test call studies to determine the extent of the call completion problem across rural America.

How effectively are long distance companies delivering the calls intended for the rural telephone subscribers?  The survey results are telling.

In 2011, 24% of the long distance calls placed to rural test areas were delayed, of poor quality, or incomplete.

The 2012 study indicated the problems continued or worsened in 62% of the surveyed areas.

By 2013, 85% of the survey respondents noted persistent problems. A majority characterized their call completion problems as serious or chronic. These results have been documented and reported to the FCC.

It’s important for consumers to know that the long distance or wireless company they have selected is not the only company that touches their call from beginning to end. Call paths are complex. The chosen company may be turning traffic over to another underlying least cost provider to carry its traffic.

Consumers and local telephone companies face a difficult task in trying to identify which long distance or intermediate company is the culprit for dropped calls or degraded quality. These calling problems originate outside the local telephone networks. The calls glide from one company’s network to a second and often a third and a fourth and frequently do not even reach the local telephone company.

Your local phone company may be able to help you identify call completion problems. But most likely these problems cannot be “fixed” by your local company.

The FCC has a form on its website for consumers to file complaints regarding call completion (fcc.gov/complaints). The form asks that, if possible, you identify the long distance or wireless company of the person who made the call. Most consumers are not able to provide this information.

The FCC needs to step up and take measures that will stop this serious problem. Currently, the FCC does not register or oversee regulatory compliance for underlying intermediate providers or routers of calls. It needs to. 

This is Bonnie Lorang

General Manager of MITS

Montana Independent Telecommunications Systems

Thanks for listening.