Two rural telecom service providers have filed a class-action lawsuit against T-Mobile over calls not completed to rural service areas. T-Mobile previously was fined $40 million by the FCC for rural calls not completed, but that money went to the U.S. treasury, and the providers are arguing that they deserve compensation.

The carriers filing the lawsuit are Craigville Telephone Co. of Indiana and Consolidated Telephone Company of Minnesota, who note that the lawsuit is filed “on behalf of a class of similarly situated companies.” In addition to T-Mobile, defendants include Inteliquent and “Doe Defendants.” The latter include intermediate carriers that may have handled calls placed by T-Mobile customers to rural areas. Inteliquent was T-Mobile’s call termination provider at the time T-Mobile received the $40 million fine.

Rural Calls Not Completed
The lawsuit references T-Mobile’s April 2018 settlement with the FCC involving calls not completed to rural areas. According to an order adopted by the FCC, T-Mobile admitted to violating the commission’s prohibition against the insertion of false ring tones and admitted that it did not correct problems with delivery of calls to certain rural areas.

The insertion of false ring tones gives callers the impression that a caller has simply not answered the call when in fact, the call may never have been delivered to the called party. Originating carriers may choose not to deliver calls to rural areas because they are required to pay per-minute access charges to the company that provides service to the called party, and those charges are higher in rural areas than in metro areas because of the higher cost of delivering service in rural areas.

Rural calls not completed have been an ongoing problem for about a decade.

According to the new lawsuit, filed in in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, T-Mobile’s failure to deliver calls to rural areas “injured the class members’ businesses in multiple ways, including: lost opportunities to seek inter-carrier compensation for calls the scheme blocked from connecting to the plaintiff’s switches, lost profits and revenue, reputational harm caused by plaintiffs’ customers’ false impression that their local rural carrier was responsible for call completion failures, loss of good will with customers, lost time value of labor hours associated with investigating and responding to customer complaints, loss of revenue due to discounts and monetary concessions the class members have made to appease and retain their disgruntled customers, and industry wide harm to the reputations and business opportunities for local rural phone companies.”

In a press release about the lawsuit, an association representing small, largely rural wireless carriers, noted that it has previously raised rural call completion concerns in testimony before Congress and in filings with the FCC. In the press release, RWA – The Rural Wireless Association, noted that it has contended that allowing T-Mobile to merge with Sprint would enable the merged company to “potentially victimize Sprint’s 50 million subscribers in this or other ways in an effort to cut costs.”

T-Mobile did not immediately respond to Telecompetitor’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

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