Problems related to the transmission and completion of calls to rural carriers have become a “nationwide epidemic,” rural telco groups told FCC staff members on March 10.

Representatives of the rural telco groups—including the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA), the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO), the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA) and the Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA)—outlined at least four potential problem scenarios:

  • Calls that ring for the calling party, but not at all or on a delayed basis for the customer of the rural carrier
  • Calling parties who receive incorrect or misleading message interceptions before the call reaches the rural LEC or the tandem switch through which the rural LEC receives traffic
  • Calls that appear to loop between routing providers but never reach the rural carrier or its serving tandem
  • Incorrect caller ID that displays to called parties

Calls experiencing problems such as these include those coming from wireline, wireless, interconnected VoIP providers and VoIP systems, the rural groups said.

According to a slide presentation used in the discussion with the FCC,  one retail business customer invoiced its rural service provider for more than $50,000 to cover lost sales from potential customers who could not reach this business. Additionally, one state police barracks has threatened to move, citing its inability to receive critical calls.


The telco groups also pointed to a survey of NTCA members which showed that 80% of rural carriers surveyed reported termination problems. Also cited was a multi-month effort by a Minnesota tandem provider that supports several local exchange carriers. The tandem provider experienced between 4 and 32 trouble tickets per week over a three-month period in 2010.

And, the rural telco groups say, such findings may be only the tip of the iceberg, as the carriers typically only learn of problems if the person trying unsuccessfully to call their customers alerts the customers, who in turn, must notify the rural carriers.

The rural telco groups urged the FCC to take several steps to address this problem, including:

  • Ensuring that providers do not initiate or permit actions that result in calls failing to terminate or to be choked, restricted or disguised
  • Affirming that where a provider knows, or should reasonably know, that calls will fail to complete or suffer in delivery, the provider should be responsible for its acts or omissions

Based on the slide presentation, the rural telco groups apparently did not speculate whether other carriers are deliberately blocking calls or how they are doing it. But, considering the controversy regarding access fees, some of which are relatively high for rural markets, that are charged to complete calls on local telephone networks, it is possible that some other carriers might attempt to avoid paying those charges by failing to complete calls to those rural markets.

Currently there are easier ways of avoiding those access charges, such as failing to provide the information that the called party’s carrier needs to bill for terminating the call or sending long-distance traffic over local trunks.  But the FCC has indicated that it plans to crack down on access charge avoidance schemes such as these, so perhaps some carriers are looking for alternatives—such as making sure the calls cannot be completed at all.

Image courtesy of flickr user drewleavy.