Cloud contact center application provider InContact has agreed to pay a $100,000 civil penalty and implement a compliance program in a rural call completion settlement with the FCC. It’s the smallest of five such settlements that have been made with the FCC but it also has the distinction of being the first arising out of an informal consumer complaint.

The consumer complained to the FCC on at least three occasions in 2014 and 2015 about not receiving work-related calls, which led to lost income, the FCC said. The person’s employer was a customer of InContact and according to the rural call completion settlement, the reason calls did not go through was the fault of an intermediate provider used to deliver traffic to the complainant. The problem was so persistent that the consumer feared job loss, the FCC said.

“InContact failed to ensure that its calls were reliably delivered to the consumer,” said the FCC in a press release. “Moreover, InContact initially was uncooperative when the [FCC enforcement bureau] investigated the consumer’s complaints.”

Calls not going through to rural areas have been a problem for several years. At issue are carriers – often intermediate carriers – that do not deliver calls to rural areas as a means of avoiding per-minute termination charges, which are higher in rural areas to help cover the higher costs of delivering service in those areas.

InContact’s response to the rural consumer’s complaint illustrates the difficulties the FCC has faced in attempting to enforce rules preventing carriers from impeding calls to rural areas —  rules that require the originating carrier to take responsibility even if when an intermediate carrier is involved.

According to the consent decree issued by the FCC involving InContact, InContact’s response to the consumer’s complaint was to append an email chain showing that its customer (the consumer’s employer) did not respond to an InContact email about the complaint and noted that the complainant was not its customer. That response was “deficient,” the FCC said.

The FCC noted that it reminded InContact of its obligation to ensure that intermediate providers were performing adequately but the problem persisted, ultimately resulting in the rural call completion settlement.

Compliance Requirements
As part of its compliance program, InContact will be required to establish operating procedures that employees will be required to follow to help ensure compliance with rural call completion rules. The company also will be required to designate a senior corporate manager to be a compliance officer, to create a compliance manual and compliance training program and submit compliance reports.

These requirements are similar to what other carriers involved in rural call completion settlements have agreed to. Other companies that have been involved in such settlements include VerizonLevel 3Matrix Telecom and Windstream.

NTCA Says Legislation Needed
Michael Romano, senior vice president of policy for NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, said in a statement about the InContact settlement that NTCA “applauds” the FCC’s investigation into call completion problems. But he added that “Unfortunately, the length of time between consent decrees and the ongoing nature of the crisis indicates how difficult it is to get to the root of the problem and the need for better tools and use of data to gain visibility into this marketplace.”

Continuing call completion problems illustrate the need for legislation to be enacted to “bring least-cost routers out of the shadows and put an end to the call completion problem once and for all,” Romano said. He pointed to legislation introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. David Young as examples of how the problem might be solved.

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