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FCC Tries Again to Solve Rural Call Completion Problems

Posted by Andrew Regitsky

Apr 6, 2018 10:00:00 AM

GettyImages-644520928It has been almost five years since the FCC began to systematically address the troubling inability consumers and businesses have completing calls to rural areas. These problems manifest themselves in various ways, including calls that are significantly delayed, no ring on the called party’s phone, or the caller hearing false ring tones or busy signals.

The Commission tried to solve this problem in 2013 when it established requirements for "covered providers". In most cases, these were the calling party’s long-distance provider, but also included LECs, CMRS providers, and VoIP service providers.

 The approximately 55 covered providers were required to record and retain the following information for each long-distance call attempt to rural ILECs by Operating Carrier Number (OCN): calling party number; called party number; signaling code information; date; time of day; whether the call was handed off to an intermediate provider and, if so, which intermediate provider; whether the call was interstate; and whether the call attempt was answered. Covered providers began recording data on April 1, 2015.

While things improved some, the problems persisted. Thus, in 2017, in a Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in Docket 13-39, the Agency tried again. It proposed rules that would require covered providers to (1) monitor the rural call performance of their intermediate providers, and (2) hold those intermediate providers accountable for their performance. In its upcoming April meeting, the Commission plans on voting to codify those proposals. Here are the new rules:

First, the FCC eliminates the reporting requirement for covered providers it established in 2013 (and discussed above), because those reporting rules turned out to be too burdensome.

Second, the Commission requires covered providers to monitor the performance of the intermediate providers to which they hand off calls and take action if there is a problem.  

By holding a central party responsible for call completion issues, it will be less likely for calls to “fall through the cracks” along a lengthy chain of intermediate providers. The monitoring rule encourages covered providers to ensure that calls are completed, assigns clear responsibility for call completion issues, and enhances our ability to take enforcement action where needed. To facilitate communication about problems that arise, we also require covered providers to make available a point of contact to address rural call completion issues. (Draft of Second Report and Order, Docket 13-39, at p. 6).

The Commission establishes specific requirements for covered providers:

[W]e specifically require that “[f]or each intermediate provider with which it contracts, a covered provider shall: (a) monitor the intermediate provider’s performance in the completion of call attempts to rural telephone companies from subscriber lines for which the covered provider makes the initial long distance call path choice; and (b) based on the results of such monitoring, hold the intermediate provider accountable for such performance, including by removing the intermediate provider from a particular route after sustained inadequate performance...We also require covered providers to hold intermediate providers with which they contract responsible for their performance. (Id. At p. 7).

Moreover, covered providers must prospectively monitor the performance of intermediate carriers.

Required prospective monitoring includes regular observation of intermediate provider performance and call routing decision-making; periodic evaluation to determine whether to make changes to improve rural call completion performance; and actions to promote improved call completion performance where warranted. To ensure consistent prospective monitoring and facilitate Commission oversight, we expect covered providers to document their processes for prospective monitoring and identify staff responsible for such monitoring functions in the written documentation, and we expect covered providers to comply with that written documentation in conducting the required prospective monitoring. (id., at pp. 8-9.).

Although the Commission's requirements are limited to calls to ILECs, it also requires covered providers to monitor rural call completion performance of rural CLECs.

To ensure that covered providers have adequate information to monitor intermediate provider performance, we direct NECA to prepare on an annual basis and make publicly available a list of rural competitive LEC OCNs in addition to continuing its annual listing of rural and non-rural incumbent LEC OCNs. (Id., at p. 15).

While it is clear that the Commission is correct that further action is needed to improve calls to rural areas, the last thing we need is a system in which a covered provider "cuts off" poor performing intermediate carriers from routes. Can you imagine the bitter disputes that will occur when one carrier eliminates another when it decides that carrier's performance is substandard? It won't be pretty. The FCC should never make individual carriers the enforcers. It is in charge, and it should do it job!  

Topics: FCC, clec