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FCC Takes Additional Steps to Combat Rural Call Completion Problems

On March 15, the FCC considered a Fourth Report and Order (19-23) that will ensure long-distance calls successfully reach rural America. The FCC acts under the Improving Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017 (“RCC Act”) and creates rules affecting only “intermediate providers.” The FCC believes such providers to be responsible for the success or failure of these long-distance calls. 

This Order seeks to ensure that Americans living in all parts of the country can receive phone calls and be free of geographic discrimination in their ability to connect with other Americans. In pursuance of this goal under earlier orders issued by the FCC, intermediate providers are required to register with the FCC, and some are prohibited from handing off calls to unregistered providers. 

Under this Order, the FCC adopts “service quality standards for intermediate providers.” The FCC emphasizes the flexibility of these standards. Intermediate providers will be required to take reasonable steps to ensure completion of long-distance calls, monitor the success of and address concerns with intermediate providers with whom they contract, and only hand off calls to intermediate providers that are also registered. 

The FCC also creates “an exception to those standards for intermediate providers that qualify for the covered provider safe harbor in our existing rules.” Providers can obtain a safe harbor by meeting the requirements set forth in the related Third RCC Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: “(1) the covered provider must restrict by contract any intermediate provider to which a call is directed from permitting more than one additional intermediate provider in the call path before the call reaches the terminating provider or terminating tandem; (2) any nondisclosure agreement with an intermediate provider must permit the covered provider to reveal the identity of the intermediate provider and any additional intermediate provider to the Commission and to the rural incumbent LEC(s) whose incoming long-distance calls are affected by the intermediate provider’s performance; and (3) the covered provider must have a process in place to monitor the performance of its intermediate providers.”

In addition, the FCC sunsets the recording and retention requirements for rural call completion data set forth in the First RCC Order.

Finally, the FCC outlines enforcement actions against intermediate providers who do not comply with these rules. Non-compliant providers may be fined, and other providers regulated by the FCC may be prohibited from using their services.

If you have any questions regarding the information contained in this Advisory, please contact the attorney assigned to your account or Robert H. Jackson at rhj@commlawgroup.com.

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