Less than a third (28%) of rural call completion problems reported to the originating carrier are resolved, according to a recent survey of 209 rural telcos conducted by several rural carrier associations.

The survey, conducted by 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, also found that 62% of telcos responding have seen call completion problems remain steady or increase when comparing complaints during the seven-month period ending in September 2012 with the previous seven-month period.

In a release issued yesterday, the rural telco groups said these findings were particularly disturbing, considering efforts that have been made to prevent carriers from failing to complete calls to rural areas. Early this year the FCC issued a call completion ruling stating that carriers that fail to complete calls to rural areas could face cease and desist orders, forfeiture, license revocations and fines of up to $1.5 million. The ruling built on an earlier FCC call completion workshop at which carriers discussed best practices for handling call completion problems, such as having designated personnel on the originating carrier side to handle reports of rural call completion problems.

Rural Call Completion Survey Results
Yet despite efforts such as these, 41% of respondents in the latest survey, on average, said originating carriers did not have contact points with people knowledgeable about rural call completion. That average was calculated after asking the rural telcos about specific originating carriers with whom they have experienced problems. Some individual carriers —  identified only by a letter in the version of the survey released publicly —  had particularly negative scores. Eighty-three percent of rural telco respondents that had experienced problems with one particular carrier said that carrier did not have knowledgeable staff to handle the problem.

“The results of this survey echo a theme that I hear over and over again from small carriers all over the country: that call completion problems are rampant in rural communities and in many cases have gotten worse over the summer and fall,” said NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield in the press release. “From Alaska to Alabama, the number of calls ending up in dead air or busy tones is on the rise. It’s clear that regulators need to step in and step up to end such bad practices once and for all.”

Although carriers that failed to complete calls were not identified by name, the survey report does break the problem carriers into several distinct groups by carrier type – and those results reveal that problems are occurring with several types of originating carriers, including long-distance carriers, wireless carriers, fixed VoIP providers and nomadic VoIP providers. One long-distance company had a total of 289 complaints reported by 33 different rural telcos during the study period. And one wireless carrier had 842 complaints reported, also from 33 different telcos.

The survey includes data on 13 originating carriers that generated 3,268 complaints.

Originating carriers are motivated not to complete calls to rural areas as a means of avoiding terminating access charges, which are higher in rural areas. Regulators aim to phase out the access charge system, but that will take years – and rural telco associations say policymakers need to do more at this time to curb call completion complaints.

“Customers can’t reach their family members,” said OPASTCO Senior Policy Analyst and Business Director Steve Pastorkovich in today’s release. “Business is lost when companies cannot reach each other, stifling job creation. The ongoing failure to resolve the call completion problem is causing real harm in the rural communities our members serve. Case-by-case remedies are no longer sufficient. We need a lasting solution to the underlying problem without further delay.”

Image courtesy of flickr user drewleavy.

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