The FCC continues its efforts to improve rural call completion, teeing up a draft Fourth Report and Order (“Order”) that would adopt new service quality standards for intermediate providers (i.e. entities that carry, but do not originate or terminate calls) for consideration at its March 15, 2019 Open Meeting. The Order, which would further implement the Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017 (“RCC Act”), proposes intermediate provider service quality standards and related enforcement procedures, and sunsets existing call data recording and retention rules for covered providers. The Order also would deny two pending Petitions for Reconsideration of previous rural call completion orders. Although the proposed service quality standards would not take effect until the later of six months after the Order is released or 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, intermediate providers will want to begin familiarizing themselves with the proposed new rules now in light of the significant potential enforcement penalties for noncompliance.

Continue Reading FCC Set to Adopt Rural Call Completion Service Quality Standards

Spectrum issues will once again take center stage at the FCC’s next open meeting scheduled for March 15, 2019. In a jam-packed agenda, the FCC plans to create a new category of experimental licenses for operations in spectrum above 95 GHz and potentially make more than 21 gigahertz available for unlicensed use in these so-called “spectrum horizons.” The agency also anticipates launching a rulemaking to permit broadband operations in a portion of the 900 MHz band that currently is used for two-way radio operations. In addition, the FCC expects to seek input on improving spectrum partitioning, disaggregation, and leasing arrangements. These spectrum proposals follow similar FCC actions designed to improve access to mid- and high-band frequencies, and could jump-start a new wave of innovation in next-generation, short-range technologies. Rounding out the major actions on the March agenda, the FCC plans to propose new wireless E911 location accuracy requirements and adopt service quality standards for intermediate service providers to improve rural call completion. If adopted, these proposals would impose significant obligations on carriers of all sizes and could potentially lead to serious fines in the event of noncompliance.

You will find more details on the significant March meeting items after the break:

Continue Reading FCC Looks to the Spectrum Horizons in March Open Meeting

We now know that the Rural Call Completion rules the Federal Communications Commission adopted in late 2013, and modified in November 2014, have taken effect, with obligations commencing as soon as April 1, 2015.   The rules require certain originating long-distance providers to record, retain, and report information on delivery of long distance calls to rural local exchange carriers (“LECs”) individually and to nonrural LECs in the aggregate. The holdup on the rules taking effect was Office of Management and Budget review of the data collection requirements. Continue Reading New Rural Call Completion Deadlines Established

Although the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Call Completion rules have not yet become effective, the Enforcement Bureau recently concluded an investigation into the performance of Windstream in completing long-distance calls.  The carrier reached a settlement with the Commission obligating it to make a voluntary contribution to the Treasury of $2,500,000.  The Enforcement Bureau’s investigation, which commenced in November 2012, “ultimately focused” on the performance of the voice network owned and operated by PAETEC Holding Corporation prior to and after its 2011 acquisition by Windstream and potential violations of Sections 201(b) and 202(a) of the Communications Act, which proscribe practices of common carriers that are unjust or unreasonable or unjustly or unreasonably discriminatory.  In addition to the significant monetary component, the consent decree, adopted on Thursday, February 20, 2014, contains a three-year compliance plan commitment. Continue Reading Windstream Second Carrier to Enter into Consent Decree Related to Rural Call Completion Performance – Agrees to Pay $2.5 Million

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.