Long-distance carriers who receive informal complaints about calls not going through to rural areas must investigate the problem and report on its resolution – even if the person making the complaint is not a customer of the long-distance carrier. So said the FCC in an enforcement advisory issued Friday.

Going forward, the FCC said it may take enforcement action – including monetary fines — against providers that submit deficient responses to informal complaints.

“For the past several years consumers have reported problems with long distance calls to rural areas completing successfully,” the FCC wrote in the notice. “Based on our experience in investigating this issue, rural call completion problems often arise from the manner in which originating long distance providers route their calls.”

When calls are not completed, people other than the caller may be harmed, the commission noted.

“Businesses lose orders, medical professionals are unable to reach patients, and family members cannot check on loved ones,” the advisory states.

The advisory cited several real world examples of inadequate responses to informal rural call completion complaints:

  • “[This] is not [our] complaint. Please redirect to [the rural telephone company] for an accurate completion of this case.”
  • “We have contacted the [rural complainant] and have successfully resolved this matter by advising [her] that due to living in a rural area she will experience service issues.”
  • “[O]ur records . . . do not show that [we were] previously contacted by [our customer regarding] the problem described in the complaint. Thus [we have] not had the opportunity to investigate.”

To properly satisfy rural call completion complaints long-distance carriers should contact the complainant, test and troubleshoot call completion, and permanently move traffic onto known well-performing routes when either testing or repeated complaints reveals a problem, the FCC said. The long-distance carrier also must document such actions in a written response to the complaint.

Further information is available on the FCC’s rural call completion web page.

Telecompetitor has been following rural call completion problems for several years. Certain long-distance carriers or wholesale carriers used by the long-distance companies appear to be deliberately trying to avoid completing calls to rural areas to avoid paying terminating access charges, which tend to be higher in rural areas to help cover higher network costs in those areas.

Earlier this year Level3 agreed to pay $975,000 in a rural call completion settlement.

Image courtesy of flickr user drewleavy.

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