Rural Call Completion

Americans make millions of 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, even when the customer dials the call correctly. The customer may experience these problems. On some calls:

  • 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 the call suddenly ends.
  • 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 go through, 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 the Rural Call Completion website which contains additional information, as well as links for reporting problems with rural call completion.  ​

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 PSC – and many congressional offices, have also asked for action. 

​Unfortunately, rural call completion issues are particularly difficult to address. Fifty years ago, a phone call was carried over copper wires which formed a single circuit from end to end, often provided by a single telephone company. As technology has evolved, phones, and the telephone network, have become more complex. Today, the telecommunications network is almost entirely digital, computer-based and calls are handed back and forth between hundreds of different providers.  A single phone call may be carried by a dozen or more provider as it route from the caller to the called party. 

If one of these providers has an error in the instructions for routing calls, the call may never reach its destination. With billions of destinations and thousands of providers, errors in the routing instructions happen. Most are caught rapidly. For example, if a provider has an error that prevent calls to New York City from completing, they will notice, and fix, that problem quickly. An error that would prevent a call between, for example, Lake Mills, WI and Burton, WI, would be harder to find, since calls between those towns would happen only occasionally. 

Call quality may also suffer in rural areas. Providers can save money by slightly degrading the quality of the call. For calls between large cities, which are generally carried by a single provider, that degradation is probably unnoticeable. For calls between rural areas, which may involve many different carriers, those small degradations can add up, and make the call almost – or completely – incomprehensible. 

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 at the PSC at or at (608) 267-2338.