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FCC May Adopt New Rural Call Completion Rules Imposing Burdens on Carriers Leveraging Least Cost Routing

The FCC announced that, at its April 17, 2018 Open Meeting, it will consider the adoption of new rules designed to improve the completion of calls made to rural locations in the United States, as well as a new notice of proposed rulemaking to consider even more rules needed to implement the “Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017.

Specifically, the FCC is likely to amend its rules to require “covered providers”—entities that chose the initial long-distance route for 100,000 or more “domestic retail subscriber lines” served by it or its affiliates—to monitor the performance of the “intermediate providers” to which they hand off calls.  Covered providers would also be required to remove any intermediate provider after “sustained inadequate performance.”

Under the proposal, covered providers would also be required to establish “a point of contact to address rural call completion issues in order to facilitate communication about problems that arise.”  However, the data reporting rules adopted in 2013 and generally found to be inefficient would be eliminated, while retaining the recordkeeping and retention obligations for the time being.

Next, the FCC proposes to adopt a further notice of proposed rulemaking that would require all intermediate providers to register with the FCC and prohibit any covered provider from using an unregistered intermediate provider.  The further notice also proposes to impose service standards on intermediate providers.  These would include prohibitions against:  1) returning a call to a provider  “that has previously handed off the same call”; 2) “releas[ing] a call back to the originating interexchange carrier if the intermediate provider fails to find a route for completion of the call”; and 3) “processing of calls in a manner that terminates and re-originates the calls.”  Each intermediate carrier must have procedures in place to monitor its performance.  If approved, these new rules will have a significant impact on any provider that uses least-cost-routing arrangements.

Finally, the further notice would eliminate the recordkeeping and retention requirements when the service quality rules are effective.  Comments and reply comments must be filed no later than June 4 and 19 respectively.

Needless to say, rural call completion is a high profile issue, both with the public and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.  Failure to comply with these rules could likely expose both covered providers and intermediate providers to potential FCC investigations with the risk of civil forfeitures, in addition to FCC complaints or lawsuits seeking damages under the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.

If you have questions about the newly proposed rules or would like to discuss the possibility of filing comments with the FCC, please contact Robert H Jackson at 703-714-1316 or rhj@commlawgroup.com.

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