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FCC re-examining rural call completion rules

By Bob Gnapp, director – Member Training and Network Analysis

To combat the continuing problems with rural call completion, the Federal Communications Commission is re-evaluating one of its policies. Specifically, the FCC is considering eliminating the recording, retention and reporting rules adopted in its 2013 Rural Call Completion Order. In June 2017, the FCC issued two documents related to these rules: an RCC Report summarizing the FCC’s analysis of collected call performance data; and a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making closely tied to the findings of the report.

FCC report analyzes call answer rates, network effectiveness 

The report detailed the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau’s analysis of two years of call performance data submitted by the 55 carriers who met the Order’s criteria as covered providers, i.e., long-distance voice service providers that make the initial long-distance call path choice for more than 100,000 domestic retail subscriber lines. The data points collected were selected to allow for the calculation of two longtime industry standard call performance metrics: the call answer rate and the network effectiveness ratio. 

The Bureau provided several observations on the collected data but prefaced them all by stating that data quality issues, e.g., the disparate treatment of autodialed calls, precluded them from drawing firm conclusions from the data. Among its observations, the report found:

  • The aggregate call answer rate in rural areas was only slightly lower than in nonrural areas.

  • There was wide variation in performance among covered providers in rural areas.

  • The aggregate call answer rate in rural areas did not increase over the course of the reporting period. Based on this finding, the Bureau reasoned that call reporting has not caused covered providers to improve their performance in rural areas during the reporting period despite a notable reduction in call completion complaints during the same time period.

The report recommended the Commission seek comment on eliminating the recording, retention and reporting rules and several modifications of the data collection.

Second FNPRM spurs reaction from rural associations 

On the heels of the RCC Report, the FCC released a Second FNPRM. In line with the recommendations in the Bureau’s report, the Notice proposes to eliminate the recording, retention and reporting rules. It proposes instead to hold covered providers responsible for self-monitoring rural call completion performance and taking action to address poor performance. The Notice also asked for additional proposals to address call performance.

NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband filed joint comments on the Second FNPRM. They observed that years of clarifications, warnings and admonishments reminding originating providers of their obligations to monitor their networks and ensure that rural calls complete were ineffective. Also, they argued that recording, retention and reporting rules “shined a necessary spotlight on individual providers such that they were forced to change their practices,” and therefore should not be removed until a suitable replacement is found. In addition, they suggested the FCC require covered providers abide by industry best practices such as limiting the number of intermediate providers used on any individual call. Today, following industry best practices is optional.

Good news on the congressional front

Congress is currently considering legislation addressing rural call completion issues. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 460, the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017. A companion bill, S. 96, has also passed the Senate. If enacted, the 2017 RCC Act would instruct the Commission to establish a registry of and service quality standards for intermediate providers. 

What can you do?

It is vital the FCC hear of ongoing RCC issues. Please continue to encourage your affected subscribers to file complaints with the FCC. You can also report issues at RCCINFO@FCC.gov to help mitigate this persistent problem.

Filed under November 2017, Tagged with Call completion, Fall 2017, FCC

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