Held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Verizon hosted its second rural call completion workshop. Both workshops were conducted as part of their agreement under a Consent Decree with the FCC. Unlike the April 2015 workshop, which focused on the causes of rural call completion failures and ways to mitigate them, this workshop centered on Verizon's analysis of calling records and performance metrics to detect failures.
Maggie McCready, Verizon vice president of Public Policy, welcomed the attendees and following opening remarks by Mark Paff, Verizon manager of Telecommunications, a panel consisting of Verizon network and operations staff was introduced.
The panelists discussed observations made during their examination of Verizon's long distance call detail records, such as the granularity at which call performance data is analyzed, and determined call performance data may be more useful if studied at the wire center level versus the company level. They also noted issues occurring in a single wire center could easily be masked by normal performance at other wire centers within the local exchange carrier's serving territory.
Several of the panelists raised concerns about the effects of auto dialers (i.e., robocalls) on their ability to identify problems using the call answer rate, one of two industry standard performance metrics the FCC requires covered originating long distance providers to report on a quarterly basis. They believe the unusual nature of these calls, which represented roughly half of all calls analyzed, could skew results and provide false low performance warnings. Specifically, robocalls often go unanswered because the called parties do not recognize the number on their caller ID. Auto dialer traffic is often directed to unassigned numbers, a phenomenon that is rare when humans are dialing someone they know. They also discussed calling pattern assumptions used to identify auto dialer traffic and calls destined to unassigned numbers so they could be removed from its analysis.
During their research, Verizon investigated a new performance ratio they call the repeat attempt metric. The RAM theory is when a calling party fails to reach a rural subscriber or their voice mail, they will make additional attempts shortly after that failure. The RAM looks for an unusually high occurrence of repeat attempts, which they define as three or more calls between two numbers occurring in a five-minute window. While this approach shows promise, the panelists stated it is too soon to draw conclusions on its merits.
The panelists asked those rural ILECs that want test calls placed to their exchanges to provide Verizon access to one or more milliwatt test lines for that purpose. Companies can submit milliwatt test line information here.
Research professor discusses academic study
Next up was Dr. Eric Burger, research professor of computer science at Georgetown University, who discussed an academic research study commissioned and funded in part by Verizon. The study's objective was to review current methods of detecting and resolving rural call completion problems and to develop new tools to improve call completion in rural areas.
The study drew very similar conclusions to those discussed by the Verizon panel, namely that auto dialer traffic could skew standard performance ratios. It too recommended exploring a call performance metric that measures repeat call attempts.
Three members of the rural ILEC community comprised the final panel: Dale Merten of Toledo Telephone Company; Kim Harber of Madison Communications; and Lee VonGunten of AdamsWells Internet Telecom TV. The panelists humanized the issue, stating while there has been some improvement in call completion issues, it continues to inconvenience customers, cause hardships for businesses and threaten public safety. They also drew attention to the need for better identification and management of underlying carriers, i.e., least cost routers, that have been widely recognized as the primary source of call failures.