Windstream has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the U.S. Treasury to resolve an FCC investigation into the company’s rural call completion practices. In the rural call completion settlement released late yesterday, Windstream has agreed to implement a three-year plan to ensure compliance with FCC requirements designed to ensure that calls made to rural areas are properly completed.
Details of that plan include designating a senior corporate office to serve as a compliance officer focusing on rural call completion issues. Other elements of the plan require Windstream to:
- Cooperate with the FCC and rural carriers to establish a testing program to evaluate rural call completion performance when problems arise
- Promptly resolve any rural call completion problems caused by intermediate providers that complete calls for Windstream
- No longer use intermediate providers that fail to improve performance
- Report any noncompliance with rural call completion rules to the FCC within 15 days
- File a compliance report in 90 days and annual reports for three years
The FCC began investigating Windstream’s call completion practices in late 2012, according to a consent decree released by the FCC today. The consent decree also suggests that Windstream may have inherited call completion problems when it purchased competitive carrier Paetec in late 2011. In submitting information to the FCC, Windstream reported separately on the legacy Paetec operations and legacy Windstream operations and the FCC concerns ultimately focused on the legacy Paetec operations.
That realization should come as no surprise to readers who have been following the rural call completion issue, as Paetec has been the focus of a state-level investigation in Washington.
It is widely believed that some retail service providers or intermediate carriers are deliberately failing to complete calls to rural customers to avoid paying per-minute access charges to the local carriers that provide phone service to those customers. Those charges tend to be higher in rural areas to help cover the higher cost of providing service in those areas.
“It goes without saying that long-distance calls placed to rural areas — or anywhere — should reach their destination,” said Michele Ellison, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, in a press release about Windstream’s agreement with the commission. “Rural call completion failures jeopardize the fundamental promise that all Americans should have access to reliable communications.”
In a statement, Windstream Executive Vice President and General Counsel John Fletcher said, “We appreciate the careful, deliberate approach the FCC took in this matter. While we disagree with the agency’s conclusion that our call completion practices were not adequate, we believe this is the best way to resolve the inquiry and enable us to continue providing great service to rural customers.”
Windstream is the second carrier to agree to make a payment to settle an FCC investigation into its rural call completion performance. Level 3 last year reached a similar agreement in the amount of $975,000.
The FCC in 2012 adopted an order confirming that carriers were required to complete calls to rural areas and establishing fines for non-compliance. When rural call completion problems continued, the FCC last year released an order that requires service providers to report on rural call completion performance.
And as yesterday’s news illustrate, the commission continues to investigate companies that do not appear to be in compliance with call completion requirements.