Rural “call completion” problems are a serious issue that the Commission has been grappling with over the past few months. Local phone providers in rural areas have reported an alarming increase in complaints from customers that long distance calls and faxes are not reaching them. Other complaints include poor call quality and incorrect caller ID information, showing perhaps an unfamiliar local number for a long-distance call. It’s a persistent and ongoing concern affecting 80% of rural carriers recently surveyed by a rural telephone company trade association on the issue.
This can have dire consequences. Small businesses lose customers who get frustrated when their calls don’t go through. Urgent long distance calls from friends or family are misidentified on caller ID and not answered. Prescriptions faxed to a pharmacy fail to transmit.
The issue is complicated, but in a nutshell, the problem appears to be occurring in rural areas where long distance carriers normally pay higher-than-average charges to the local telephone company to complete calls. These charges are part of the decades-old system of “access” charges that help pay for the cost of rural networks. To minimize these charges, some long-distance carriers use third-party “least-cost routers,” which attempt to connect calls to their destination at the lowest cost possible. Sometimes, however, the calls appear not to be connecting at all.
The good news is that new FCC rules – which took effect on Dec. 29 – will provide both short and long-term solutions to rural call completion problems. These rules are part of an Order the FCC adopted in October making broader reforms to the access charge system, called intercarrier compensation, or ICC.
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