FCC Releases Rural Call Completion Order and Further Rulemaking

Comments are due by June 4; reply comments are due by June 19.

The FCC has released its Rural Call Completion Order (RCC Order) and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Third FNPRM). In the RCC Order, the FCC adopts a new rule to address rural call completion issues, including issues raised by AICC. The FCC’s rule requires “covered providers,” defined as entities that select the initial long-distance route for a large number of lines, to monitor the performance of the “intermediate providers” to which they hand off calls and holds covered providers responsible for the entire path of the call.  The FCC also requires covered providers to make available a point of contact to address rural call completion issues.

Specifically, the FCC’s rule adopted in the RCC Order provides that a covered provider, for each intermediate provider with which it contracts, shall: (a) monitor the intermediate provider’s performance in the completion of call attempts to rural telephone companies (both incumbent and competitive local exchange carriers ) from subscriber lines for which the covered provider makes the initial long-distance call path choice; and (b) based on the results of such monitoring, take steps that are reasonably calculated to correct any identified performance problem with the intermediate provider, including removing the intermediate provider from a particular route after sustained inadequate performance. This requirement entails both prospective evaluation to prevent problems and retrospective investigation of any problems that arise. The FCC also requires covered providers to take steps that are reasonably calculated to correct any identified performance problem with the intermediate provider. Although covered providers have flexibility in the remedial steps they choose so long as they pursue a solution that is reasonably calculated to be effective, the FCC specifically requires removing intermediate providers from routes where warranted.

The FCC requires covered providers to exercise oversight regarding their entire intermediate provider call path to rural destinations. However, the FCC does not cap the number of intermediate providers.

Covered providers are required to make available on their websites a telephone number and email address for the purpose of receiving and responding promptly to any rural call completion issues. The contact information must be easy to find and use. Covered providers must ensure that any staff reachable through this contact information has the technical capability to promptly respond to and address call completion concerns. The contact information must be kept current on their websites and updated with any changes within ten business days.

The FCC declines to set specific performance targets or benchmarks for call answer rates, call completion rates, or any other performance metric.

Rural Call Completion Further Rulemaking

In the Third FNPRM, the FCC seeks comment on rules to be applied to intermediate providers to address rural call completion issues and to comply with the Rural Call Completion Act (RCC Act).  Most of the proposed rules for intermediate providers follow the rule adopted for covered providers and will work in connection with that rule to prevent rural call completion issues, address issues when they occur, allow alarm industry members to identify the entities involved in call completion issues and provide a contact person to resolve any issues.

The Third FNPRM also asks for comment on service quality standards to be applied to intermediate providers.

The FCC seeks comment on the following issues:

  1. The FCC proposes to require any intermediate provider to register with the FCC, and provide its business name, primary address; the name, telephone number email address and business address of its regulatory contact and/or designated agent for service of process; all business names that the intermediate provider has used in the past; and the states in which it provides service. The FCC also proposes that a point of contact must be provided for addressing rural call completion issues including the name, title, business address, telephone number and email address of at least one contact person.
  2. The FCC proposes that a covered provider may not rely on any unregistered intermediate providers in the path of a given call.
  3. The FCC proposes that covered providers must be responsible for knowing the identity of all intermediate providers in a call path and must furnish upon request to the FCC or state authorities the identities of any or all intermediate provides in the respective call paths.

The FCC also seeks comment on service quality requirements for intermediate providers. The RCC Act requires intermediate providers that offer, or hold themselves out as offering, the capability to transmit covered voice communications from one destination to another and that charge any rate to any other entity (including an affiliated entity) to comply with “service quality standards” to be established by the Commission. In promulgating such standards, the Commission must “ensure the integrity of the transmission of covered voice communications to all customers in the United States” and “prevent unjust or unreasonable discrimination among areas of the United States in the delivery of covered voice communications.” The term “service quality standards” is not defined in the RCC Act. However, the FCC notes that “the Senate Commerce Committee Report states that such standards ‘could include the adoption of specific call completion metrics or the more general adoption of duties to complete calls analogous to those that already apply to covered providers under prior Commission rules and orders.’”

The FCC seeks comment on the following issues concerning service quality standards for intermediate providers:

  1. The FCC proposes to require intermediate providers to take reasonable steps to: (1) prevent “call looping,” a practice in which the intermediate provider hands off a call for completion to a provider that has previously handed off the call; (2) “crank back” or release a call back to the originating carrier, rather than simply dropping the call, upon failure to find a route; and (3) not process calls so as to “terminate and re-originate” them (e.g., fraudulently using “SIM boxes” or unlimited VoIP plans to re-originate large amounts of traffic in an attempt to shift the cost of terminating these calls from the originating provider to the wireless or wireline provider).
  2. The FCC states that Section 64.1601(a)(2) of the Commission’s rules already requires intermediate providers within an interstate or intrastate call path that originate and/or terminate on the PSTN to pass unaltered to subsequent providers in the call path signaling information identifying the telephone number, or billing number, if different, of the calling party that is received with a call. In addition, section 64.2201(b) requires intermediate providers to return unaltered to providers in the call path any signaling information that indicates that the terminating provider is alerting the called party, such as by ringing. The FCC asks if any additional rules are necessary to prevent intermediate providers from manipulating signaling information for calls destined for rural areas?
  3. The FCC asks whether it should require intermediate providers to temporarily or permanently remove an intermediate provider who fails to perform at an acceptable service level from the routing path, as it required for covered providers and whether it should require intermediate providers to take reasonable steps to limit the number of intermediate providers after them in the call chain?
  4. The FCC proposes to require intermediate providers to have processes in place to monitor their own rural call completion performance when transmitting covered voice communications.
  5. The FCC asks if it should adopt duties to complete calls for intermediate carriers like those that already apply to covered providers under prior Commission rules and orders?
  6. The FCC asks if it should require intermediate providers to meet or exceed one or more numeric rural call completion performance targets or thresholds while giving them flexibility in how to meet this requirement? If so, what metric(s) should be utilized and what target(s) or threshold(s) should be set?
  7. The FCC seeks comment on whether intermediate providers should be required to certify that they do not transmit covered voice communications to other intermediate providers that are not registered with the Commission.
  8. The FCC asks whether specific service quality measures for intermediate provider should be adopted. The FCC states that following adoption of rules implementing the RCC Act, covered providers who qualify for the safe harbor provisions will also be exempt from the service quality requirements of the RCC Act.
  9. The FCC asks whether an intermediate provider’s failure to comply with the quality standards or to fully and accurately register should result in removal from the registry, thereby preventing covered providers from using that intermediate provider?

Comments are due by June 4, 2018 and reply comments are due by June 19, 2018. To comment, visit FCC.

 

Contributed by Mary Sisak, Blooston Law Firm, TMA Counsel

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