FCC Issues Rulemaking to Ensure Residents Can Complete Rural Calls

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Sept. 17 --The Federal Communications Commission issued a rulemaking to ensure that all residents in rural areas receive their phone calls.

The order requires telephone carriers to retain information about the path a call has taken and other details in order to ascertain the rate of call completion, an FCC spokesman confirmed. The order also prohibits carriers from playing an audible ringing sound to callers even when the call is not actually going through.

The call data requirements will help the FCC enforce violations of its current call completion rules, the spokesman said. The FCC also issued a further notice of proposed rulemaking to consider possible next steps after the commission receives the call data, among other issues.

The order will “enhance the FCC's ability to investigate and crack down on this problem while also taking immediate steps that will improve the performance of long-distance calls to rural America,” acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said in a Sept. 17 statement.

U.S. residents in rural areas have long complained about problems they have receiving long distance or wireless calls on their landline telephones.

Rural telephone groups claim that the issue stems from the manner in which telephone providers route their calls and that many of the routing and termination issues are caused by intermediate providers. The cost of long-distance service in rural areas is generally higher than in urban areas and long-distance call providers often use intermediate providers to deliver calls at lower costs.

“It is shocking that in this day and age, long-distance calls to rural Americans all too often are not being completed,” Clyburn said. “This is a serious and unacceptable situation for people living in rural America.”

US Telecom President Walter McCormick thanked the commission for circulating the order in a news release Sept. 17. “Call completion is a consumer issue, a competition issue and a public safety issue,” he said. “These issues are top priorities for our industry, and we're pleased the commission has taken action on this longstanding problem.”

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) said in a separate news release that it was pleased Clyburn has sought to make call completion a priority for the commission during her tenure. NARUC has “consistently encouraged the FCC to take expeditious and strong action to ensure that telecommunications customers in rural areas receive the same level of service as everyone else,” the news release said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com