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

Colorado Representative Addresses AICC

Representative Michael Coffman (R-CO), who sits on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees, spoke to the AICC members at their quarterly meeting in Washington, DC last week.

Lou Fiore Mike Coffman AICC 3.8.18 cropped

Representative Michael Coffman, left, and AICC Chair Lou Fior

Coffman primarily focused on the net neutrality issue and where proposed legislation stands in Congress. He indicated he is against repeal of the December 2017 FCC overrule of the net neutrality rules because it would set a precedent for change every few years.

At the meeting, members also discussed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, security industry concerns regarding drones, cybersecurity and IoT, and other important issues.

For information on membership in AICC, contact chair Lou Fiore.

Walden, Blackburn on President Trump Signing Kari’s Law

WASHINGTON, DC – House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) released the following statement after President Trump signed Kari’s Law, H.R.  582, into law on February 16.

“As we recognize the 50th anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call, we applaud President Trump for signing into law this important step to improve our nation’s public safety communications. In the heat of a crisis, Kari’s Law ensures that dialing 9-1-1 means your call will go through, no matter what kind of phone you’re using. With this bill now the law of the land, the tragedy that took Kari Hunt’s life in 2013 has become a source for positive change, making emergency communications faster and more reliable for every American,” said Walden and Blackburn.

Follow-Up Report: FCC Seeks Comments on Overturning of Copper Retirement Notice Requirements and Other Consumer Protections

As previously reported, on November 16, 2017, the FCC adopted an Order rolling back consumer protections in connection with the retirement of copper lines and the discontinuance of traditional telephone services. The FCC took this action even though the alarm industry, consumer advocates and members of Congress objected that the actions could lead to consumers losing their telephone service and could adversely impact alarm service.

This article provides a more detailed analysis of the Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) adopted by the FCC overturning a number of protections previously adopted for consumers and competitors in connection with copper retirement and the discontinuance of telecommunications service. The FCC’s Order is the culmination of the Technology Transitions Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Notice of Inquiry (NOI), and Request for Comment (NPRM/NOI), in which the FCC outlined proposed changes to its rules ostensibly “to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks and services by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.”

In the Order, the FCC eliminates the requirement that retail customers must be notified before their copper facilities are retired. The FCC eliminates the customer notification requirement even though AICC, many consumer advocates, state commissions and a number of U.S. Senators urged the FCC to maintain a notice requirement to protect consumers from potential confusion and the suspension or termination of their service. The Order limits a notice requirement to telephone exchange service providers that directly interconnect with the incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) network and reduces the amount of notice to 90 days after the FCC issues a public notice of the planned copper retirement.

The Order also eliminates the rule prohibiting ILECs from discussing planned network changes in advance of public notice. In an ex parte letter, AICC argued against this action because it would frustrate the nondiscrimination provisions of Section 275 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and would have a negative impact on competition in the alarm industry. Section 275 requires ILECs to “provide nonaffiliated entities, upon reasonable request, with the network services it provides to its own alarm monitoring operations, on nondiscriminatory terms and conditions,” among other things. By prohibiting ILECs from disclosing information about network changes ahead of public notice, the FCC’s non-eliminated rule, Section 51.325(c), supported Section 275’s goal of ensuring that all alarm providers – affiliated or not – would have an equal opportunity when it came to utilization of ILEC network services. AICC stated that the absence of Section 51.325(c) may be interpreted as permission for ILECs to give their alarm service affiliates a clear competitive advantage over non-affiliates by providing advance notice of network changes. AICC argued that, in order to meaningfully preserve the level playing field that Section 275’s nondiscrimination requirement creates, unaffiliated alarm companies should be accorded the same access to information as affiliates, and the Commission should not permit ILECs to choose who receives information about network changes and who does not in advance of public notice.

The Order eliminates the “functionality test” standard for determining whether an ILEC must obtain section 214 authority to discontinue a service. Among other things, the functionality test required an ILEC to ensure that third-party devices, including alarm systems, would continue to work on a service intended to replace existing services. Instead the FCC only will require the new service to meet the carrier’s description of the service being terminated in its tariff—or customer service agreement in the absence of a tariff.

In its ex parte letter, AICC argued that the Commission’s decision to reverse the “functional test” is not in the public interest because alarm customers rely on their alarm equipment and services to protect their lives and their property and, therefore, before a service is discontinued there must be a service that continues to be compatible with alarm equipment and service. The FCC, however, has now found that “service providers do not bear the burden of ensuring compatibility with third-party devices.” According to the FCC, “carriers cannot know all of the myriad ways in which their services are used by customers, and it would be impracticable to require them to account for all these many uses in deciding whether a planned discontinuance triggers a requirement to file an application with the Commission. Carriers have no means of knowing what devices their customers are using and therefore cannot be expected to account for their proper functioning.” The FCC also found that it “makes more sense from a cost and efficiency perspective to require third-party manufacturers of ancillary devices— as opposed to telecommunications carriers —to bear the cost of ensuring compatibility. As the manufacturers of such devices— and the parties who know their operation and uses first-hand—these companies are in the best position to adapt such devices to changes in the underlying telecommunications service for the least cost and with the smallest disruption to consumers.”

The FCC also streamlines the discontinuance application process for carriers seeking to grandfather any voice and data services at speeds below 1.544 Mbps and the discontinuance process for applications seeking authorization to discontinue legacy data services that have previously been grandfathered for a period of at least 180 days; the FCC adopts new streamlined processing rules for applications to discontinue low -speed legacy services having no customers for the prior 30-day period; and the FCC finds that a carrier need not seek approval from the Commission to discontinue, reduce, or impair a service pursuant to section 214(a) of the Act when a change in service directly affects only carrier-customers.

In the FNPRM, the FCC seeks comment on a number of issues including whether a single interconnected VoIP service (without any service quality or other requirements) should enable streamlined discontinuance of legacy voice service. It also seeks comment on whether the FCC should streamline discontinuances for higher-speed data services.

Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on “Verizon’s proposal that the Commission streamline processing of section 214(a) discontinuance applications for legacy voice services where a carrier certifies: (1) that it provides interconnected VoIP service throughout the affected service area; and (2) that at least one other alternative voice service is available in the affected service area.” According to Verizon “adoption of this streamlined test ‘would compel carriers to maintain legacy services only in those rare instances . . . where their absence would cut consumers off from the nation’s telephone network’ and would ‘free[] carriers to focus on rolling out and improving the next -generation technologies their customers demand.’” The FCC seeks comment on the benefits and burdens of streamlining section 214(a) discontinuances for legacy voice services and on the benefits and burdens of Verizon’s specific recommendation.

In the FNPRM, the FCC also:

  1. Proposes to streamline the approval process for applications seeking to grandfather data services with download/upload speeds of less than 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, so long as the applying carrier provides data services of equivalent quality at speeds of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps or higher throughout the affected service area.
  2. Proposes a uniform reduced public comment period of 10 days and an auto-grant period of 25 days for all carriers submitting such applications. Under this proposal, such services must be grandfathered for a period of no less than 180 days before a carrier may submit an application to the Commission seeking authorization to discontinue such services.
  3. Seeks comment on AT&T’s proposal that the FCC eliminate the requirement that incumbent LECs provide public notice of network changes affecting the interoperability of customer premises equipment.

Comments on the FNPRM are due by January 17, 2018. Reply comments are due by February 16, 2018.

Thanks to Mary Sisak, attorney at Blooston, Mordkofsky, Dickens, Duffy & Prendergast, LLP, for this report. 

FCC Repeals Net Neutrality

As anticipated, on December 14, the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to adopt an Order repealing the 2015 Net Neutrality Order. Among other things, the Order:

  • Reclassifies broadband Internet access service as an information service (removing it from Title II regulation);
  • Reinstates the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband Internet access service;
  • Eliminates the Bright Line Rules (no blocking/throttling/paid prioritization) and the Internet Conduct Standard (a general code of conduct for ISPs);
  • Adopts transparency requirements that ISPs disclose information about their practices to consumers;
  • Looks to the Federal Trade Commission’s to protect consumers online from any unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices.

TMA’s Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) filed reply comments in the FCC’s proceeding stating that its members compete directly with certain large broadband internet access service (BIAS) providers in the provision of security monitoring, installation, and other service while at the same time being dependent upon the BIAS carriers’ transmission services. Although AICC urged the Commission to maintain its Bright Line Rules, which prohibit BIAS providers from blocking or throttling traffic and also prohibit paid prioritization for broadband Internet access service, the FCC eliminated them. 

AICC also argued that the FCC should maintain Section 275 of the Act, which was adopted as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as a compromise between the alarm industry and the Bell Operating Companies (BOCs) to protect the alarm industry from discrimination by the former BOCs. Section 275 provided four main protections for the alarm industry:

  1. It prohibited the BOCs from entering the alarm industry market for five years (which provision has since expired)
  2. It requires any incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) that is engaged in the provision of alarm monitoring services to provide non-affiliated entities the same network services it provides to its own alarm monitoring operations on nondiscriminatory terms and conditions
  3. It prohibits an ILEC from subsidizing its alarm monitoring services from telephone exchange service operations
  4. It required the Commission to establish expedited procedures for the receipt and review of complaints regarding Section 275.

The Order did not address Section 275, despite the pleas of AT&T and others to eliminate it, and its protections remain in place.

AICC will continue to follow and report on Net Neutrality developments and how they may affect alarm industry businesses.

FCC Overturns Copper Retirement Notice Requirements and Other Consumer Protections

On November 16, 2017, the FCC adopted an Order rolling back consumer protections in connection with the retirement of copper lines and the discontinuance of traditional telephone services. The FCC took this action even though the alarm industry, consumer advocates and members of Congress objected that the actions could lead to consumers losing their telephone service and could adversely impact alarm service.

The FCC’s Order:

  • eliminates notice to customers when copper facilities will be retired;
  • allows local exchange carriers (LECs), apparently, to notify some customers of upcoming network changes and copper retirements;
  • reduces the notice that must be provided to interconnecting carriers;
  • allows LECs to discontinue low speed services on an expedited basis;
  • appears to allow LECs to discontinue service even if there is not a replacement service that is as good as the discontinued service.

The FCC also adopted a Further Notice seeking comment on whether a single interconnected VoIP service (without any service quality or other requirements) should enable streamlined discontinuance of legacy voice service. It also seeks comment on whether the FCC should streamline discontinuances for higher-speed data services.

As TMA’s Alarm Industry Communications Committee reviews the Order, TMA members should record and report to TMA (communications@tma.us) if they have experienced an increase in the number of alarm signals that do not go through; the area where there are problems; the cause of the problem; and, if known, whether there is a copper retirement in the area where it occurs.

A more detailed analysis of the Order and Further Notice will be provided soon.

AICC Fall Meeting Welcomes Members of Congress

On September 7, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee hosted its fall meeting in Washington DC and welcomed two Members of Congress with important connections to telecommunications legislation and regulations.

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) currently serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is a member of the Communications and Technology, the Health, and the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittees.  She spoke about disaster preparedness and Hurricane Harvey, noting that any natural disaster affects the alarm industry. She noted that the whole country needs to be connected to broadband — the lack of it is “not fair to small towns, rural areas which are struggling to survive” — and the need to rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Later in the meeting, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, addressed the AICC members primarily on the issue of Net Neutrality. AICC members noted that they are participating in the comments process. Walden said his committee is “fully committed to finding a legislative solution that takes care of bad behavior but does not suppress innovation.” He noted that reauthorizing the FCC as an agency needs to happen before the Telecoms Act can be addressed.

AICC Fall 2017 Walden Fiore Hauhn Signer

From left: TMA Executive Director Jay Hauhn, AICC Chair Lou Fiore, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), AICC lobbyist Bill Signer

Following the representatives’ remarks, AICC members were able to ask questions and put forward their concerns as an industry of small businesses regarding the Telecoms Act, Net Neutrality, and FirstNet.