Monday, August 25, 2014

1 in 5 long-distance calls to rural areas aren't connected; cheap third-party services to blame

Long-distance and wireless carriers forced to pay higher-than-average fees to local phone companies to complete calls to rural areas are making up for costs by contracting cheap third-party services to connect calls at the lowest price possible, Ricky Barrett reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As a result "as many as one in five long-distance calls to rural communities either aren't connected to the intended number or are corrupted by issues such as static or garbled sound, according to Communications Data Group, a telephone billing company based in Champaign, Ill."

Phone calls were once carried over copper wires which formed a single circuit from end to end," the state Public Service Commission says on its website, Barrett writes. "Those days are gone. Today, the network is almost completely digital, with calls reduced to bits and sent over a massive web of links provided by telephone, cable, cellular and fixed wireless providers. Now, a caller to a rural number often may get a busy signal or a recorded message inaccurately saying the number is no longer in service. Other times, it sounds to the caller as if the number is ringing, but the rural customer's phone never rings or the call is dropped after a couple of rings."

The Federal Communications Commission has taken action, Barrett notes. In June, Matrix Telecom Inc. of Irving, Tex., agreed to pay $875,000 to resolve a call-completion investigation while Level 3 Communications LLC paid $975,000 in March and Windstream Corp. $2.5 million in February in similar instances. Some critics argue that those fines aren't big enough to make the carriers pay more for better services.

"One solution could come from legislation, introduced by U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), that would create an FCC registry for the companies responsible for routing long-distance calls," Barrett writes. "It also would set service quality standards for the carriers." (Read more)

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