In a clear demonstration of the priority the FCC places on addressing rural call completion issues, Tuesday it was announced that Level 3 agreed to make a voluntary contribution of $975,000 after an investigation into its rural call completion practices.
Call completion practices into rural areas have been suspect for some time as callers complain about false busy signals, long hold times of dead air, no ringing on distant end and poor voice quality. The effect has been to cause businesses to lose customers, families to miss important information and create potentially dangerous situations affecting the public good.
As FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski accurately points out, “When calls to American in rural communities aren’t reliably completed, the consequences are both life-threatening and damaging economically.”
Level 3 has agreed to complete calls to rural ILECs at a rate within 5% of that in non-rural areas over a two-year period. Furthermore, they have agreed to document and report quarterly the level of compliance towards that benchmark beginning in January 2014. If they are unable to meet the benchmark, Level 3 has also agreed to make another $1,000,000 voluntary contribution to the treasury department.
Previously, the FCC has stated that carriers who deliberately fail to complete calls to rural areas could “face cease and desist orders, forfeiture, license revocations and fines of up to $1.5 million.”
On February 4, 2013 the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making covering rural call completion in response to ongoing complaints by rural ILECs and telecom associations. The NPRM reported “…rural associations state that 80 percent of rural carriers responding to one survey reported problems, and rural customer reports of problems receiving calls increased by more than 2000% in the twelve-month period from April 2010 to March 2011.”
The announcement of the agreement between the FCC and Level 3 occurred during COMPTEL and became a topic of discussion. For various reasons carriers have used less than stellar means to complete calls to rural areas, and many see themselves in the cross hairs of the FCC if they do not improve their long distance and fax call completion practices to rural areas. This means removing the number of intermediate carriers, improving the quality of intermediate carriers and discontinuing any deceptive practices.
ANPI conducted a webinar Call Completion – A Crucial Issue with participation by Robert Gnapp, NECA Industry Relations, Michael Romano, NTCA, Dave Lewis, ANPI CEO and Andy Brown, ANPI Industry Relations. It remains very applicable to this discussion.
In time the issue of call completion will go away as the FCC accomplishes the reform of InterCarrier Compensation. Until then, it is good to know that they are remaining vigilant for rural Americans.