Rural Call Completion

Just months after I became a PUC commissioner while attending an event in Custer, a man approached me with a problem. He explained that his business relied primarily on phone contacts coming from outside South Dakota and that many of these telephone calls from existing and prospective customers weren’t ringing through to his office. He had just described a classic example of a wave of rural call completion problems plaguing customers in at least 35 states.

A careful examination by our South Dakota telephone companies showed that these out-of-state calls weren’t even getting to South Dakota. How could this happen with 21st century technology? The answer to that question and the solution has proven elusive.

Because the calls are interstate telephone calls, jurisdiction for solving the problem falls to the Federal Communications Commission. Since the day I had that conversation in Custer, I and many others have worked to pressure the FCC to take this problem seriously, find out why these calls aren’t being delivered, and who is responsible with the ultimate goal of restoring reliable long distance telephone service to rural America.

There has been sporadic success. The reason for calls being “dumped” before arriving in rural states varies from software glitches to unscrupulous companies purposely dumping calls. The FCC has levied fines on a few companies and instituted data collection requirements to aid in finding the companies which are causing the problem.

It appears that most of the problem lies with companies called “least cost routers” that move long distance telephone calls between the telephone caller’s local phone company and the phone company of the person being called. Under today’s regulatory requirements these companies are largely publicly unknown, not required to register, and have no service quality requirements.

Today in the United States Senate progress was made to shine a light on these companies. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology passed S. 827: Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2015 sponsored by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and supported by Senator John Thune. This Act requires the FCC to ensure that intermediary carriers to publicly register and comply with service quality requirements.

Rural South Dakotans deserve no less.