The FCC is considering imposing additional rural call completion requirements on long-distance providers. In a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) adopted today, the commission asks for input on several proposals, including one that would require long-distance providers to monitor the rural call completion performance of intermediate carriers contracted by the long-distance companies to deliver calls to rural areas.

Rural Call Completion Problems
Rural call completion has been well documented and has been an ongoing problem since the early part of this decade. It is widely believed that some long-distance providers, or the intermediate carriers serving them, deliberately avoid completing calls to rural areas in order to avoid paying terminating access charges to the rural carriers serving those areas. Access charges tend to be higher in rural areas to help cover the higher cost of providing service in those areas.

“Failed long-distance calls have serious consequences for rural America,” said the FCC in today’s press release about the NPRM adopted today. “From dangerous delays in public safety communications, to loss of business suffered by rural enterprises, to families being cut off from loved ones, these failures have hurt rural Americans and the rural economy.”

The FCC has taken various steps over the years to address rural call completion problems, including adopting an order in 2013 that required long-distance providers to record and report on the performance of intermediate providers and imposing fines on long-distance providers with substantial call completion problems.

But as FCC officials at today’s monthly FCC meeting noted, rural call completion problems continue.

As FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn noted at today’s meeting, “we did not know how big the problem really was.” She likened the call completion information reported by carriers to “sunlight” which she said has been “an excellent disinfectant.”

According to today’s press release, “[b]y making long-distance providers accountable for the rural call completion of their intermediate providers, today’s proposal would more directly and quickly tackle rural call completion problems than the FCC’s current regulation.”

In addition to proposing ongoing monitoring of intermediate carriers, today’s NPRM asks stakeholders to consider whether existing recording, retention and reporting rules should remain in place or should be modified. For example, one idea is to retain recording and retention requirements, but to eliminate reporting rules, senior officials noted at today’s meeting.

The proposal also seeks comment on how the commission should proceed with its existing safe harbor rules – an apparent reference to long-distance carriers that have adopted industry best practices and are therefore exempted from reporting requirements. Additionally, the proposal seeks comment on any additional measures the FCC should take to address rural completion problems.

Image courtesy of flickr user drewleavy.