Monday, April 20, 2015

Dropped calls continue to plague rural areas

Dropped calls remain a problem in rural areas, Jim Spencer reports for the Star Tribune. From late September through early December of 2014, around 20 calls "about transfers of patients so sick or injured that they had to move from Madelia Community Hospital and Clinic in rural Minnesota to a more comprehensive care facility about 25 miles away in Mankato" didn't go through.

The same problem has affected high school weather reports that didn't get to parents and students, clients of insurance companies who couldn't get through to their agents and business owners who said prospective customers switched to another company when they were unable to get the businesses on the phone, Spencer writes.

Last year Communications Data Group, a telephone billing company based in Champaign, Ill., said that as many as one-in-five calls to rural areas don't go through, mostly because long-distance and wireless carriers are contracting out to cheap third-party services in an attempt to offset higher-than-average fees to local phone companies to complete calls.

The Federal Communications Commission conducted a national test of 2,150 rural calls in 2011, finding that 344 never reached their destination and another 172 were "unacceptably delayed or of poor quality," Spencer writes. In January of this year, FCC "fined Verizon $2 million for failing to investigate dropped rural calls in 22 counties in 2013. Regulators also required Verizon to invest $3 million in a program to keep better track of rural connection problems. Verizon at the time said its long-distance networks were 'highly reliable' and that it had worked proactively with industry partners to 'confirm proper delivery of calls to rural destinations.'"

Andy Innis of Christensen Communications in Madelia, Minn., said dumping rural phone calls is against the law but told Spencer “There are so many intermediate routers that the FCC can’t get a handle on following these things. It’s like playing Whac-A-Mole.” (Read more)

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