ruralVerizon is the latest telco to agree to a settlement with the FCC to resolve a rural call completion investigation. The company has agreed to pay a fine of two million dollars and to implement a compliance plan to which it has committed an additional three million dollars, the FCC said.

The Verizon rural call completion settlement is notable in that the company is an incumbent carrier that was deemed deficient in its handling of calls in its role as a retail provider.  The FCC said the company failed to investigate evidence of low call answer rates to 26 different rural areas. In other words, Verizon may not deliberately have avoided completing calls to rural areas but nevertheless was expected to determine whether an intermediate carrier might be at fault.

Previous rural call completion settlements primarily involved competitive carriers such as Matrix Telecom  and Level 3, often in their role as intermediate carriers hired by a retail provider to complete calls.

Although Windstream also agreed previously to a settlement, the company largely inherited the problems when it purchased competitive carrier Paetec.

The Rural Call Completion Problem
Rural telecom service providers have complained for several years that some other carriers appear to be deliberately failing to complete calls to the rural carriers’ customers as a means of avoiding the payment of per-minute call termination fees to the rural carriers. Those fees tend to be higher in rural areas to cover some of the costs of providing service, which tend to be higher in those areas.

Even after the FCC ruled that carriers were required to complete calls  and established fines for non-compliance the problem continued. Today’s action, coming on top of previous settlements, illustrates that the FCC hasn’t given up on the issue and in fact is willing to escalate enforcement activity.

Verizon Rural Call Completion Settlement
Verizon’s settlement included provisions similar to those involved with previous settlements, along with some new ones:

  • Appointing a rural call completion ombudsman with the company to centralize analysis of rural call completion problems
  • Developing a system to automatically identify customer complaints that may be related to rural call completion issues
  • Limit the use of intermediate providers
  • Monitor call answer rates to individual rural areas and conduct an investigation when rates to an area fall below an established threshold
  • Host industry workshops and sponsor an academic study on methods to detect and resolve rural call completion problems
  • Provide quarterly summaries of its investigations to the FCC and meet periodically with commission staff to identify lessons learned
  • Prepare a report to be publicly filed with the commission at the end of the three-year compliance period