It could be “only a matter of time” before life is lost as a result of a call not completing to a rural area, states a letter from Pine Drive Telephone Company, a small Colorado local telephone company, to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission shared with Telecompetitor. Accompanying the letter is a statement from a Pine Drive Telephone Company customer, who is one of nine volunteer local coordinators for the Colorado Search and Rescue Board, and who could not be reached by a statewide coordinator after multiple attempts for a period of several hours during a recent incident.
According to the customer’s statement, he was charged with attempting to locate a search-and-rescue dog team to assist in the process of locating and recovering a man caught in an avalanche in eastern Utah. As the statement explains, the CSRB maintains a list of search and rescue resources throughout Colorado.
“A big part of a CSRB coordinator’s job is to find available and appropriate resources, brief them on the mission and assist them (if needed) in getting to the incident . . . all in a timely manner,” the statement says. “To do that we network a lot.”
This case involved a recovery, rather than a rescue mission, because of the amount of time that had elapsed from the time the man was reported missing – and the request for assistance was cancelled about an hour after the customer received the request because the man was found. But as the customer notes, if this had been a rescue mission, the inability of other coordinators to reach him could have cost a life.
Rural telcos have been complaining for over a year about other carriers not completing calls to their customers – apparently because they want to avoid paying per-minute terminating access fees, which tend to be higher in rural areas where the costs of providing service are higher. In February, the FCC issued a ruling stating that carriers that deliberately fail to complete calls to rural areas could face cease and desist orders, forfeiture, license revocations and fines of up to $1.5 million.
But according to research conducted by several rural telco associations last month, the problem continues. The research, based on a series of test calls to rural and non-rural phone numbers using a variety of long-distance carriers, found that call failure rates were 13 times higher to test lines in rural areas compared to those in non-rural areas.
Testers also found that nearly a third of rural test lines experienced completion problems on more than 20% of incoming calls.
“The FCC should engage in enforcement proceedings against offending carriers to begin correcting this problem,” said Kelly Worthington, executive vice president of the Western Telecommunications Association, one of the rural carrier groups that conducted the research, in an announcement of the findings released yesterday.
Other rural telco groups participating in the research included the National Exchange Carrier Association, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, and the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies.