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Rural Call Completion

Americans make millions of long distance phone calls every day. In many parts of America, including Wisconsin, some of those calls – particularly some placed to rural customers - are not being completed. On a small portion of calls, even when a customer correctly dials the number of a rural subscriber, one of several problems may occur:

  • The caller may hear ringing, but the called rural customer’s phone never rings.
  • The caller may hear nothing for a minute or so, then have the call suddenly end.
  • The caller may hear an incorrect intercept announcement, such as “this number is not in service” or “this call cannot be completed as dialed,” even though the number is in service and was dialed correctly.
  • Caller ID may display an incorrect number, or no number at all.

Even if the call does complete, the call quality may be so bad that conversation is impossible. Rural call completion problems can also prevent receipt of faxes or other data communications.

These problems – generally called rural call completion or rural call termination problems – do not appear to be the fault of the rural telephone companies. Instead, the problem occurs somewhere in the network between the caller and the rural telephone company’s network, so the calls are never delivered to the rural company, or they are delivered in a substandard condition. Rural companies, network providers and the state and federal regulatory commissions have - and are – putting considerable resources and effort into identifying and resolving these issues, but more work remains to be done.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established a webpage on the issue, here.   That webpage contains additional information, as well as links for reporting problems with rural call completion. Besides handling complaints, the FCC has issued an Enforcement Advisory to providers underscoring the providers’ obligations to investigate customer complaints about Rural Call Completion. A copy of the FCC Advisory is provided here:    The FCC is continuing its investigation, and the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) continues to monitor and assist in that investigation where possible.

Rural call completion issues are serious. They affect rural customers who cannot receive calls from their friends and relatives and rural businesses who cannot receive calls from their customers or vendors. Rural phone companies have been focused on this issue for some time and have asked that the FCC take actions to try to correct, or at least mitigate, the problems. Many state commissions – including the PSCW – and many congressional offices, have also asked for action. (You can see the January 24, 2103, PSCW letter to the FCC on the PSCW website here).

Unfortunately, rural call completion issues are particularly difficult to address. Once upon a time – back in the days of rotary phones – a phone call was carried over copper wires which formed a single circuit from end to end. Those days are gone. Today, the network is almost entirely digital, with calls reduced to bits and sent over a massive web of links provided by telephone, cable, cellular and fixed wireless providers. These networks pass calls using a complex set of computer controls, interfaces and protocols. Rural call completion issues appear to be caused by some error or errors in programming, or incompatibility in the software somewhere in the network, that prevents the call from reaching the rural telephone company at all.

If you believe you have experienced rural call completion issues, whether you are the caller or the called party, the problem should be reported. Please note the time of the call(s), as well as the number you are calling. That information, plus the identity of your own carrier, is necessary to help find the problem. You should contact your own provider (generally dialing 6-1-1 will connect you to your provider’s customer service) and give them the information, or you can follow the instructions on reporting problem located on the FCC website.

If you would like to discuss these issues further, please contact Peter Jahn of the Commission staff at Peter.Jahn@Wisconsin.gov or at 608-267-2338.

 

PROVIDER NOTE
 
Providers seeking contact information for the Network Operations Centers (NOCs) or similar resources at interconnecting providers to resolve a rural call completion trouble can find that information at the following (ATIS) website, here.   Contact information is restricted to industry personnel.