Tester: Improve rural phone service

Senator says reliable communication necessary for jobs, small businesses

(U.S. SENATE) – With dropped calls and poor voice quality frustrating more and more Montana landline customers, Senator Jon Tester this week is calling on the nation’s leading communications agency to provide some clarity to the situation.

Tester joined a bipartisan group of colleagues demanding that the Federal Communications Commission improve landline phone service.  Nearly two-thirds of Americans say their landlines remain a necessity for daily life, but service has become less reliable in rural areas.  In fact, representatives for rural phone carriers recently reported a 2,000 percent increase in complaints.

Tester called the recent creation of the agency's task force a positive step, but said that Montana companies could not afford to lose vital business during tough economic times.

“The failure to complete calls is having a negative effect on local businesses throughout rural America who cannot afford to lose a business opportunity because of a dropped call,” Tester wrote.  “We remain concerned that this problem will continue to persist and negatively affect rural consumers without continued action and oversight by your agency.”

Between April 2010 and March 2011, landline users reported more failed and delayed calls, poor voice quality, and cases where carriers refused to place calls to certain rural areas.

Tester also noted that failed calls are a significant public safety concern, endangering folks who may not be able to immediately contact health or law enforcement officials in times of distress.

Tester is a staunch advocate for keeping rural Montana connected.  He recently secured vital assistance to repair Montana roads and highways damaged by 2011’s record flooding, helping Montana businesses and farmers efficiently get their products to market.

Tester’s bipartisan letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is available below, and online HERE.


January 18, 2012 

The Honorable Julius Genachowski
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street. SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Genachowski,

As reliance on high-speed Internet and mobile communication continues to grow, it is important to recognize that many Americans still rely on their traditional landline phone to engage in commerce, communicate with friends and family, and call for emergency assistance. Nearly two thirds of American households have landline phones, and 62 percent of Americans say the service is a necessity. Unfortunately, this service has become less reliable in certain rural areas due to a call origination, routing, and termination problem that is preventing the delivery of a growing number of calls to customers of rural local exchange carriers.

As you know, representatives for rural carriers have reported a staggering 2,000 percent increase in complaints between April 2010 and March 2011 from consumers who have experienced calls that fail to complete, arc delayed, have poor voice quality, lack correct caller ID information, or where the originating carrier simply refuses to place calls to certain rural areas. This problem, commonly referred to as “call termination,” “dropped calls," or “call completion,” is widespread and has been reported by local exchange companies in 36 states.

The failure to complete calls is having a negative effect on local businesses and people throughout rural America and also presents a serious safety concern for affected consumers.

Small business owners who are affected by this problem are rightfully frustrated and demand a solution, noting that in this challenging economic climate, businesses rely on reliable telephone service and cannot afford to lose a business opportunity because of a dropped call. Additionally, incomplete calls raise a significant public safety concern that could yield devastating outcomes if this problem is not effectively and promptly addressed.

Despite efforts by rural local exchange companies, state regulatory commissions, and telecommunications trade associations to identify the cause of this problem, there remain many unanswered questions. We appreciate the Commission's creation of the Rural Call Completion

Task Force and the workshop that was conducted with key stakeholders on October 18, 2011 to examine the extent or and reasons for the call completion problem. We also hope that the industry can continue to work with the Commission to examine the technical problems and help develop meaningful and effective solutions. We remain concerned, however, that this problem will continue to persist and negatively affect rural consumers without continued action and oversight by your agency.

We respectfully request that you update us about the Commission's efforts to identify the cause of this problem. Should your investigation reveal that responsible parties arc engaging in activities that violate the Communications Act or a Commission rule or order, we believe it is critical that the Commission takes the necessary actions to protect consumers and ensure that the widespread and frequent occurrence of undelivered calls to rural areas is addressed. We appreciate your attention to our concerns regarding this problem and look forward to your response.

Jon Tester et al.