On July 19th, the FCC Enforcement Bureau issued a an advisory to providers of long distance services reminding them that resolving rural call completion problems is a “top priority” of the Commission and of long distance carriers’ obligations to investigate and respond when served with an informal complaint by the FCC concerning rural call completion. In it, the Bureau states that deficient responses or the lack of response to such complaints may lead to enforcement action. Providers that allow rural call completion problems to persist or that fall to address such problems raised in informal complaints may be found to engage in unjust and unreasonable practices under Section 201 of the Communications Act of 1934 (the “Act”) and that insufficient responses to related complaints fail to meet the requirements of Section 208 of the Act.
The advisory describes ongoing problems that consumers are experiencing with call completion in rural areas and the potential resulting harms to health, safety and business operations. As we have previously discussed , concerning the FCC’s 2012 Declaratory Ruling regarding rural call completion issues, ongoing review of these problems suggests that the use of least-cost routing providers and the comparatively higher access costs applicable to rural traffic termination may play a role. At the same time, the Bureau notes that carrier responses to rural call completion complaints frequently are “wholly inadequate,” often dismissing the complaints (incorrectly) as a matter for the rural local exchange carriers to address or because the complainant is not a customer of the carrier receiving the complaint, among other examples given in the advisory. The advisory emphasizes that a carrier receiving an informal complaint must investigate the issues raised in the complaint and respond in writing either to describe its resolution of the issues or its inability (or refusal) to satisfy the complaint. Satisfaction of such complaints involves, in addition to investigation of the issues, testing and troubleshooting of transmission/termination facilities, contacting the complainant, and changes to operating procedures and routing protocols where necessary to avoid repetition of issues the carrier finds have occurred. The advisory directs providers, as set forth in the FCC’s rules, when receiving an informal complaint about call completion or quality to provide a narrative application about how the carrier handles traffic directed to the local carrier serving each of the called locations mentioned in the complaint.