The Phone System is Broken (too)

Peter : On Rad's Radar?
| Peter Radizeski of RAD-INFO, Inc. talking telecom, Cloud, VoIP, CLEC, and The Channel.

The Phone System is Broken (too)

The PSTN - America's phone network - is broken. There are two main issues that bring me to say that telecom is broken: number porting and call termination.

I hear complaints from VoIP Providers (and smaller CLEC's) all the time how they cannot port numbers. In some cases both VoIP Providers use a CLEC for LNP, but it is different CLEC's. The CLEC's won't talk to you. An official CDR (call detail record) is needed, but how do you get it from the underlying CLEC? Especially in Florida where the Public Utility Commission just tapped out of telecom regulations - meaning that you don't need a CLEC license in Florida and there is no governing body. Welcome to the Wild West (which unfortunately Florida is already infamous for).

Even CLEC's have a problem porting from other LEC's - ILEC, RLEC, CLEC, doesn't matter. The porting issue makes the new service provider look bad and the on-boarding of the customer ends up being a lousy experience (that studies show the customer doesn't get over). What's a service provider to do?

Then there is the ongoing battle over call termination. You would think in the 21st century, I could call anywhere and have my call go through. Not so much.

"NTCA, NECA, OPASTCO and WTA (the "Rural Representatives") filed a letter with the FCC pleading for an investigation into the dirty business of call termination problems, likely caused by magicJack and other "least cost routing" originating and intermediary carriers," according to this report from JSICA.

"The reported increase in consumer complaints over the termination and completion of long distance calls may only be the "tip of the iceberg" of the actual scope of the problem, panelists said yesterday during a discussion at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners' summer meeting,", according to this article and this article.

Why the problem? "Improper network management or setup, originating carriers routing calls to LCR providers whose contracts stipulate that they will not complete calls to certain exchanges and nomadic voice over Internet protocol providers unwilling to terminate calls to certain areas." Expense mainly. When you talk about LCR (least cost routing) - in an era of flat rate calling - carriers do not want to spend five to 25 cents per minute to terminate calls to expensive areas.

Some of this dispute was initiated by the business plans of companies like, whereby the company made money through inter-carrier compensation to provide the service (and huge profit) until carriers started fighting back. Ultimately, this issue of call termination is the result of an FCC that does not want to solve the ICC (inter-carrier compensation) issue.

Of course, it is propagated by an industry that can't miss out on any arbitrage play to make a half cent. (In other words, an industry that made quite a few folks rich without adding any value to the system, just scamming it, albeit in the grey area.)

The call termination issue means businesses lose clients. Not telecom companies but the small businesses that need a working phone system. The rural associations argued to the FCC that "this is not an inter-carrier compensation issue; this is a consumer service issue." I think it all gets solved with ICC.

I propose that both the LNP and the ICC issue could be solved with ENUM Exchange. I know, I'm a little crazy, but hear me out. With ENUM, calls are completed faster - that's a given - but the calls are completed. With every carrier connected to an inter-connected ENUM "network" or maybe a "neutral tandem", the inter-carrier compensation issue would be resolved through contracts with the ENUM / Exchange network. If most of the phone numbers were in an ENUM pool, the LNP would be easier - or at least as easy as the domain registration process of ICANN.

Another advantage would be one database for CNAM info that would be consistent (not change with every carrier or every chance a busienss wants), like back in the old days when Telecordia handled all this.

In VoIP, it might mean that we go to a system similar to DNS for phone numbers. It's a draft idea, but with ENUM / Exchange / Peering being almost universal, HD Voice and Fax over IP would have a greater level of success. Service improves.

Unfortunately, the rural carriers are stuck in a cycle of high access rates and USF subsidy. Before you start yelling at me for that, consider that most of us pay for our own utilities, but rural residents (and their utility companies) get subsidized to hell. It's not unusual to see a RLEC get $10K per line per year!! Satellite phone at $1.86 per minute would be cheaper (at 300 minutes per month that's under $8K).

We live in a nation filled with subsidy. Pundits bitch about welfare, but what about ALL of the other subsidy programs? [BTW, unless you vote AND pay taxes shut your pie-hole.] That being said I still think my plan will work, especially if USF and RUS keeps funding the rural folks. In the mean time, the phone system is broken.

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