U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) has taken up the rural call completion issue, spearheading the sending of a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asking the FCC to provide an update about the commission’s efforts to identify the cause of the problem and, if appropriate, to take steps to address it. Johnson enlisted the support of 23 other senators in signing the letter, which cites a 2,000% increase in complaints about uncompleted calls to rural areas between April 2010 and March 2011.

“I have heard from many South Dakotans who have continually experienced call disruptions and they are rightfully frustrated,” said Johnson in an announcement about the letter.  “This problem is detrimental to local businesses and to the safety of individuals in rural America and we need the FCC to get to the bottom of it.”

The letter acknowledges the FCC’s creation of a rural call completion task force and a workshop on the topic. It also mentions telecom industry efforts to address the problem, a likely reference to a recently announced initiative led by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions and ongoing efforts from NTCA and other rural telecom industry groups.

But the letter also suggests that the FCC itself may need to take action to address the problem.

“We remain concerned . . . that this problem will continue to persist and negatively affect rural consumers without continued action and oversight by your agency,” the letter says. In addition to asking for an update about the FCC’s efforts to identify the cause of the problem, the letter states that “Should your investigation reveal that responsible parties are engaging in activities that violate the Communications Act or a Commission rule or order, we believe it is critical that the commission takes the necessary actions to protect consumers and ensure that the widespread and frequent occurrence of undelivered calls to rural areas is addressed.”

Telecompetitor has been closely covering the rural call completion issue since it first came to light last year. It is widely believed within the rural telco community that certain carriers are deliberately blocking, delaying or otherwise interfering with the completion of calls to rural areas to avoid paying per-minute access charges on those calls.

Such charges tend to be higher in rural areas to help cover the higher costs of delivering service in those areas—and although the FCC plans to phase out those charges, that process is expected to take years and rural carriers say the problem must be addressed right away.
Senators signing the letter to Genachowski included:

  • Senator Tim Johnson
  • Senator John Thune
  • Senator Kent Conrad
  • Senator Ben Nelson
  • Senator John Hoeven
  • Senator Jeff Merkley
  • Senator Richard Durbin
  • Senator Mark Kirk
  • Senator Tom Harkin
  • Senator Daniel Coats
  • Senator Chuck Grassley
  • Senator Maria Cantwell
  • Senator Debbie Stabenow
  • Senator Bernard Sanders
  • Senator Jon Tester
  • Senator Max Baucus
  • Senator Michael Bennet
  • Senator Mike Crapo
  • Senator Patrick Leahy
  • Senator Mark Udall
  • Senator Mike Johanns
  • Senator Al Franken
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Senator James Risch

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