Bill Introduced to Address Rural Call Completion Problems

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) introduced a bill last week aimed at preventing long-distance carriers from blocking or disrupting calls to rural areas.

Johnson is calling it “the Public Safety and Economic Security Communications Act.” In a statement included in the Congressional Record, Johnson noted that the rural call completion problem “poses a serious public safety threat, such as when a police dispatcher cannot reach law enforcement or when a doctor cannot call a patient.”

He cited the real world example of a rural health clinic in Canistota, S.D. that has experienced a decline in business because incoming calls regularly do not reach the clinic and some patients have heard misleading messages about the clinic’s number being disconnected.

Johnson’s bill would require companies that transport voice calls to register with the FCC and comply with basic service quality standards, which would be established by the commission within 180 days of enactment. The legislation would “build upon” the FCC’s ongoing call completion efforts, Johnson said in a press release about the bill.

The FCC has ruled that carriers are required to complete calls to rural areas and has received monetary settlements from Level 3 Communications and Windstream resulting from investigations into the companies’ call completion practices.

As Johnson noted in his statement, it appears that some carriers are deliberately failing to complete calls to rural customers to avoid the higher access charges associated with rural telephone networks. The problem has proven to be a difficult one to put a stop to, despite ongoing FCC action.