FCC Sends Strong Message on Rural Call Termination Problems

Responding to concerns raised by CC Communications through the National Telephone Cooperative Association, its rural allies, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and state commissions, the FCC released a declaratory ruling Feb. 6, 2012, regarding rural call completion issues.

In the ruling, the FCC confirms, as sought by CC Comm, NTCA and these other parties, that a carrier that knows or should know of traffic routing problems on its own or other routers’ networks may be held directly liable for violations of law.  The FCC ruling states that it is unjust and unreasonable for a carrier to provide degraded service to a certain area, to fail to correct the problem, or to fail to ensure that intermediate providers, least-cost routers or other entities acting for the carrier are performing adequately.  It warned carriers that the FCC is authorized to assess a forfeiture of up to $150,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, up to a statutory maximum of $1,500,000 for a single act or failure to act.

CC Comm is  continuing to review the ruling, and we will discuss the interpretation and enforcement of it with our subscribers as we press forward on this issue.

In the Order, the FCC recognizes calls that fail to complete or experience significant quality issues threaten the “availability of reliable telephone service to consumers, businesses, and public health and safety officials in rural America”. The Order details the scope of the “Commission’s prohibition on blocking, choking, reducing or restricting telephone traffic.”  In particular, the Order clarifies:

  1. It is a “violation of section 201 of the Act for a carrier that knows or should know that it is providing degraded service to certain areas to fail to correct the problem or to fail to ensure that intermediate providers, least-cost routers, or other entities acting for or employed by the carrier are performing adequately.” (¶12);
  2. Informing a caller that a number is not reachable or is out of service when the number is, in fact, reachable and in service is unjust and unreasonable under section 201(b). (¶13);
  3. “Practices that result in disparate quality of service delivered to rural areas could be found unlawful under sections 202 and 255 of the Act.” (¶14);
  4. “If an underlying provider is blocking, choking, or otherwise restricting traffic … or … engaging in unjust or unreasonable discrimination … the carrier using that underlying provider to deliver traffic is liable for those actions if the underlying provider is an agent or other person acting for or employed by the carrier.” (¶15);
  5. If a carrier is engaging in “any of the prohibited activities described above, the Commission can take appropriate enforcement action pursuant to the remedies available under statutory authority, including cease-and-desist orders, forfeitures, and license revocations.” (¶16)

CC Communications welcomes this FCC Order and hopes it will serve as an important tool to mitigate this ongoing threat to rural subscribers.