New Law aims to improve the quality and reliability of calls made to rural America.
Rural residents and business owners scored a major legislative victory in February, one that should reduce the rural call completion problems that have long plagued those who live and work in America’s small towns and communities.
The Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act was signed into law by President Trump and gives the Federal Communications Commission additional tools to combat call completion failure.
For years, rural citizens have reported problems receiving calls that originate outside their area and from wireless callers. Some calls have poor quality, while other calls simply never come through. A leading cause of these issues is substandard service from third-party, intermediate carriers, known as “least-cost routers,” which originating carriers use to route their calls into rural areas. This is done in an effort to lower the costs of delivering a call into a rural community, where terminating costs are higher.
The new law gives authority to the FCC to require providers to register with the agency and to meet quality standards. “I will be working closely with my fellow commissioners to ensure that rural Americans have what every American expects: a telephone system that works,” says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Passage of the act was the result of a bipartisan effort in the U.S. House and Senate. “For too long, rural communities across the country have been suffering from unreliable phone service. Without consistent and dependable service, it is challenging to stay connected to loved ones, run a business, and reach first responders in an emergency,” says U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Enacting these common-sense standards for providers will ensure that every family can trust that their calls will be completed, regardless of where they live.”
U.S. Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, sponsored the bill in the House. “Improving rural call completion rates and quality are important to ensuring the survival of small towns and granting Americans the choice to live and thrive in whatever community is best for them and their family, rural, urban, or anywhere in between,” says Young.
The legislation came in part due to combined efforts of America’s rural telecommunications providers, who have worked the past several years with elected officials and regulators to solve the rural call completion problem. “Passage of this bill reaffirms the power of advocacy,” says Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, which represents nearly 850 cooperative and independent telcos in rural and small-town America.
“Rural providers do more than deliver technology to their customers; they take their concerns to Washington and educate lawmakers on bills that impact their lives and livelihoods,” Bloomfield says. “This measure will bring greater transparency to the call routing marketplace and send a bipartisan message about the importance of on-going efforts to solve call completion
problems that threaten the general wellbeing of countless Americans.”
BY STEPHEN V. SMITH