FCC Expected to Approve Rural Call Completion Order

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Oct. 18 --The Federal Communications Commission is seeking to approve an order to help enforce violations of its call completion rules at the commission's rescheduled October open meeting, now set for Oct. 28.

U.S. residents in rural areas have long complained about problems receiving long-distance or wireless calls to 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.

The rulemaking, which acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn proposed in September, would require telephone carriers to retain information about the path a call has taken and other details in order to ascertain the rate of call completion. The order would also prohibit carriers from playing a ringing sound to callers when the call is not actually going through.

The FCC issued a further notice of proposed rulemaking to consider possible next steps after the commission receives the call data.

Bipartisan Issue

“This is not a partisan issue in any sense of the word; this is a get-'er-done issue,” said Brad Ramsay, general counsel at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

“The FCC is supposed to make sure calls go through from carrier to carrier. It is long overdue for something to come down the track on this,” he told Bloomberg BNA in an Oct. 18 interview. “I give credit to Chairwoman Clyburn who has moved with all due speed on this issue.”

Industry stakeholders have expressed their concerns about the burdens involved in the proposed rulemaking's data reporting requirements. They have also sought greater clarity over who qualifies for safe harbor protections that would apply reduced levels of reporting and data retention.

Verizon met with commission officials before the government shutdown to discuss the proposed call completion reporting requirements, according to recently posted FCC filings. The company told advisers to Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel that carriers should be able to rely on reports filed by long-distance affiliates as long as they are a carrier's only intermediate providers. Furthermore, long-distance providers should not be required to segregate wireline and wireless traffic in the reports because long-distance affiliates route and deliver calls from both in the same manner, the filing said.

Safe Harbor Concerns

CenturyLink said any reporting requirements in the order should apply collectively to affiliates since long-distance routing doesn't generally distinguish between affiliates, according to commission filings.

NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association urged the commission not to adopt any safe harbors that would permit carriers to avoid call completion reporting requirements, according to newly released filings with the commission. The organization told advisers to Commissioner Ajit Pai that both rural and urban call completion rates should be collected in carrier's reporting requirements in order to determine any discrepancies or evidence of discrimination. The group also urged the FCC to make all call completion data publicly available so that consumers can make informed decisions when choosing providers.

The vote is expected to be approved by the two Democrats on the commission, Clyburn and Rosenworcel, commission sources said. It was uncertain whether Pai, a Republican, will approve the order. His spokesman had no comment Oct. 18.

The rescheduled open meeting, which had been postponed due to the government shutdown, will be held Oct. 28 at 11:30 a.m. at the FCC, 445 12th St. SW, Washington. Also on the agenda is an order to implement a previously brokered interoperability agreement for the lower 700 MHz band and an order to adopt technical rules regarding spectrum allocated for the First Responder Network Authority.

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

Visit the FCC's website at http://www.fcc.gov/events/open-commission-meeting-october-2013.

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