Rural Call Completion
What is the cause of these problems?
In a nutshell, the problem occurs in rural areas where long distance carriers normally pay higher charges to local telephone companies to complete calls. The purpose of these “access charges,” which have been in place for decades and are still a major foundation of the current regulatory system for voice telephone services, is to help pay for the cost of rural networks. The cost to build networks in rural areas is higher, so the access charges to terminate calls to those networks are higher. Paying these charges to terminate calls to landline telephone customers is required by law.
For a long distance carrier to complete one of its subscriber's calls to a resident of a rural area, the carrier must get the call to the exchange serving that resident (the local phone company), and then pay a charge to that local carrier to access its exchange. The physical process of getting the call to the exchange is called "routing." To minimize the access charges they pay, some long-distance carriers contract with third-party "least-cost routing" service providers to connect calls to their destination at the lowest cost possible. Although some of these contracts may include performance parameters, it appears that all too frequently those performance levels are not being met, or some calls are not even connecting at all. These intermediate companies providing least-cost routing services often have to cut corners in service quality, or in which calls they decide to terminate at all, to make a profit at the rates they charge.
Why are these problems so hard to fix?
The Nation’s long distance network is in transition from “legacy” to IP-based technologies and is therefore currently comprised of many interconnecting networks utilizing a variety of evolving technologies (e.g., TDM, IP, wireline, and wireless). There are thousands of interconnecting service providers and thousands of points of interconnection across the United States. In a call path, network equipment, equipment components, transport facilities and customer owned/controlled equipment can impact the characteristics of a call and its ability to complete. Such impacts can be constant or intermittent. Since most of the rural call completion problems are caused by the routing practices of intermediate carriers, and not the actual originating or terminating carriers on either end of the call, the problem carriers are very difficult to track down and identify. These intermediate carriers often strip all identifying information from call records so that they cannot be identified by the terminating carrier or by an enforcement agency.
What are we doing to address these problems?
Mid-Rivers employees spend countless hours attempting to troubleshoot these calling issues every day, working directly with customers, with callers from other areas attempting to contact our customers, with multiple other carriers, and with our equipment vendors, call tracing services and other industry consultants. Based on call examples from customers, we first verify that the problems were not within our own network, and then attempt to trace the call back to an originating carrier. If the carrier can be identified, we work with them to change the call routing to our network.
In addition to the technical troubleshooting, Mid-Rivers and our industry organizations have actively lobbied Congress and the FCC for over three years to address this problem through meaningful enforcement actions against least-cost routing providers. These efforts have resulted in two major fines to Voice Over IP long distance providers, as well as the introduction of Senate Bill 2125 and House Resolution 536 in Congress. Senator Tester has co-sponsored S.2125, and we are urging Senator Walsh and Congressman Daines to sign on to the bills as well. We will continue to fight this battle on behalf of our customers and to keep our customers informed about this issue.