Press-Republican

October 22, 2012

Rural phone customers face failure to connect

Customers of rural firms may face failure to connect

By DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Local phone companies want customers to know what is causing issues with long-distance calls to rural areas and what they can do about it.

Champlain Telephone Co. Vice President Greg MacConnell said the issue, known as “failure to complete,” started to show up several years ago but is becoming more common.

The main symptoms are long-distance or wireless calls that don’t get through or have very poor quality if they do. 

“The volume of this is continuing to increase in the last few months,” he said.

Other symptoms include dead air of 10 seconds or more, a message that the number is no longer in service, unacceptable voice quality and prolonged ringing on the caller’s end but the recipient reports the phone rang only once or twice. 

SUBCONTRACTING TO SAVE

The problem lies with the originating phone company. Those often subcontract with Internet companies that use a computerized routing system to reach the intended recipient.

According to a Federal Communications Commission fact sheet, the problem appears to be mainly in rural areas where long-distance or wireless carriers usually pay higher-than-average charges to the local phone company to complete calls. That is part of a long-standing system of access charges that help pay the cost of rural networks.

Because of that, some long-distance companies contract with third-party, lowest-cost routing-service providers to connect calls. Although the contracts usually include strict performance parameters, those are often not being met.

UPSET CUSTOMERS

Chazy Westport Communications President and CEO James Forcier said it is illegal for the underlying carriers to not complete a call, but it is still happening.

“That gets all the customers upset,” he said.

Crown Point Telephone President Shana Macey said that although the issue is upsetting to customers, it is more importantly a public-safety issue. She said they had one case where a doctor’s office couldn’t reach a patient to tell them about some critical test results.

MacConnell said it also affects businesses, especially those in rural areas that rely on tourism. If someone is unable to contact them to make a reservation or get more information, the potential customer can decide to go somewhere else.

WHAT TO DO

People who experience the problem can call their local carriers and provide information that will allow them to advocate on their behalf. They should also urge the original caller to do the same.

That information includes your phone number, the caller’s phone number, the name of the carrier used by the caller, the date and the approximate time of the call. 

Macey said the Federal Communications Commission started to investigate the issue about two years ago. She said local phone companies were asked to help with that in May.

People who experience the issue can also file a complaint with the FCC at transition.fcc.gov/eb/rcc/welcome.html. There is a link to online form 2000B under the “How do I report these problems” heading.

They will need to provide the same information required by the local phone companies. 

Forcier said it takes a lot of their resources to track down the necessary information and contact the original phone company. 

“We are smaller companies with fewer staff. But, we still need to serve our customers,” he said.

MacConnell said that if the problem continues to increase exponentially, it will put even more pressure on their staff. That is why they will continue to pressure the FCC to address the issue and use their industry trade groups to make elected officials aware of the problem.

Email Dan Heath

dheath@pressrepublican.com