Three months after telling the FCC that problems involving completion of calls to rural carriers has become a “nationwide epidemic,” several rural telco groups have again contacted the FCC about the problem—armed this time with a wealth of data to illustrate their concerns.

The groups involved–including the National Exchange Carrier Association, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies and the Western Telecommunications Alliance—conducted a survey of rural telco members, which found that at least 1,800 problem calls were reported in March 2011. The organizations argue that the problem is actually considerably greater because many customers may not be aware that callers are unable to reach them.

The survey also showed a steep rise in problem calls. The number of problems reported one month earlier was just 1,200—and prior to May 2010, the monthly number of problems reported was consistently less than 100.

The majority of problem reports—53%–involved calls not being able to go through. But other problems also were reported, including extremely poor voice quality, delayed ringing at the receiving end, inaccurate or unintelligible caller ID and inaccurate or misleading interception messages—which were cited by 16%, 13%, 11% and 5% of callers, respectively. Intercept messages advised callers that the carrier serving the called number had refused to interconnect and therefore the call could not be completed, the rural carriers said.

Over 80% of the more than 200 rural telcos responding to the survey said they had experienced some of these call routing and termination problems.

The letter from the rural carrier groups does not speculate why the problems are occurring. But an excerpt from VoIP provider magicJack’s frequently asked questions included with the letter offers some telling evidence.

In answer to the question “Why won’t some of my calls complete?” magicJack says its service is restricted in “cost prohibitive areas.” That likely is a reference to the comparatively high terminating access charges that are found in some sparsely populated rural areas, where the cost to deliver phone service is high.

MagicJack (which is now owned by VocalTec) apparently is one of at least nine retail carriers whose customers have experienced difficulties reaching rural phone service users.

In their letter, the rural carrier groups do not name the other retail carriers. But rural carriers report that some of the retail carriers have been uncooperative about resolving problem reports. According to the letter, “the identified retail provider cooperated with the RLEC to resolve the problem slightly more than half of the time (56%). Often the originating service provider would either open a trouble ticket but only work with its own customer (11%) or would not open a trouble ticket and placed blame elsewhere instead (22%). Most of the time, issues went unresolved or would only be resolved temporarily.”

The letter notes that as problems remain unresolved, “customers often blame the RLEC for the problem calls and the RLEC endures the loss of goodwill, not to mention countless hours trying to track down the source of complaints and attempts to resolve them.”

The rural groups note that one of the difficulties in troubleshooting problems is that the retail carriers sometimes use other network operators to terminate their calls. For competitive reasons, the retail carriers may be unwilling to share the names of their underlying carriers. But not to do so can end in what the rural carriers call a “game of hot potato” where neither the retail carrier nor its underlying carrier take responsibility for solving the problem.

Accordingly, the rural carrier groups argue that “the Commission’s assistance is essential if we are to ‘get to the bottom’ of these routing practices and ensure that retail providers and underlying providers . . . do not continue to undermine the integrity of the PSTN.”

Policymakers previously have intervened when, for example, rural carriers wanted to stop connecting calls for VoIP providers that were avoiding paying access charges by disguising the originating caller’s phone number.

It seems only fair for the FCC to do the same when the shoe is on the other foot, as it appears to be now.


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18 thoughts on “Rural Telecom Industry Presses FCC on Rural Call Completion Problem

  1. It's not just Magicjack. We have the same problem with Comcast callers and Vonage callers. We are a business and can't receive regular, good quality calls from some of our customers using Comcast and Vonage.

    1. But is this just a call quality problem, or a true call completion problem? I think we need to be careful not o mix the two.

      1. It is BOTH call quality and complete call problem. Our company has had both problems. Poor quality as exactly described in the blog and now long distance callers are not able to get through at all.

    2. Yep, Comcast issue here. I have Comcast and I can't place a call to family in a rural area. Hours with customer service solved the problem once, only to have it recur a few months later.

  2. Our failures usually occur when originated from US Cellular, Sprint, VZW, Majic Jack, Vonage, Comcast, Time Warner, and Windstream to name a few. I have spent countless hours on the phone with our customers and while most understand, there are a few that get caught up in the "it's not our fault" circle and simply become frustrated and threaten to drop their local service. Once you get the correct contacts within the originating carrier, the issue will usually get resolved for a while, then when someone realizes that more money can be saved by utilizing that particular underlying carrier again service goes back to a less than desirable state. Don't forget about the European ring tone as one of the signs of this taking place. If our originations were this unreliable we wouldn't have a customer base to worry about routing calls for…I guess as long as their first tier support tells the customer that it isn't their fault they don't need to worry about customer churn….we do.

    1. As switchman wrote, it's hard to convince the called party (the RLEC's customer) that the calling party needs to work with their long distance provider to resolve the issue. One way for to communicate that is to ask the called party to ask the calling party to call another number in the exchange, which will fail. And then when the calling party calls their long distance provider, ask the customer service representative, while on the phone, to try to reaching the called party, too.

    1. We shouldn't have to duplicate tandems and cross-country connections because of a few bad actors. Most calls complete most of the time. With the appropriate regulatory pressure, I believe this problem can be reduced to the level of background noise.

  3. I am calling from a rural area, Whidbey Island, to Des Moines, Iowa. I call on Sundays and am consistently told "Your call is not allocated." If I hold on and listen to this reply 4 or 5 times, my call will go thru. This has been the case for several weeks.

    1. Good to document the issue, and Andy should ask his long-distance provider to tackle the issue. Since it's easy to replicate, they can test themselves or have Andy test while working with their tech support via a cell phone.

  4. Ditto, Andy. Did you get the new email sent out from Whidbeytel this evening? 8-18? they want a log from us in order to follow thru. It's a pain but just even some information. Send to information to as below. Write the FCC; write your congressperson. This has been going on for years but has recently become an impossible nightmare. Unlike many people, I do not have the luxury to use a cell phone.

    Date and time of the call
    The number used to place the call
    The number that was called
    A description of the problem (e.g., dead air, ringing with no answer, etc.)

    Diane Hinz 360-331-5562 (good luck trying to get through)

  5. I use CREDOMOBILE who contract with sprint for my cell phone calls. I work in Seattle and it can take up to ten or more tries to reach my house when I call. I've gotten spanish answering machines, messages that the call can't be completed, elevator music, when the calls make it thru, the caller ID says numerous things, usually not my phone number. Today it said I was calling from Orlando, FL. Now that Qwest (the phone company) was bought by a company back east, my friends on the mainland are getting bad connections and calls not making it thru.

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