Rural Call Completion Bill On Its Way to President

In the wee early morning hours of Friday, when lawmakers were wrangling over a temporary government funding measure, they acted on other legislation affecting the telecom industry. The House passed the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017. Introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. John Thune (R–SD), and Sen. Jon Tester (D–MT), S. 96 requires the FCC to establish call completion standards for intermediary telecom providers that sometimes have not routed calls properly in rural areas.

Once enacted, the legislation will require intermediate telecoms to register with the agency and comply with those service quality standards. It also forbids originating carriers from using intermediary providers that the Commission says do not meet its standards. 

Reps. David Young (R–IA) and Peter Welch (D–VT), and House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), sponsored companion legislation (H.R. 460) in the House. Identical versions of the act passed in both the Senate and the House in 2017 before final passage of the Senate version last Friday. The bill now heads to the President for his signature.

“Poor call quality, not to mention lost or failed calls, are still widespread problems for rural Americans across the country. By focusing on standards for call completion in rural communities, S. 96 ensures that Americans living in rural and remote areas will share the type of high-quality phone service many people in major cities take for granted,” said Walden and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Friday morning.

Trade associations representing rural telecoms hailed the action. Mitigating call completion issues has long been a priority of the rural telecommunications industry, according to NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. “Final passage of this NTCA supported legislation is a critical step on the long road to resolving the call quality and reliability issues that have plagued rural Americans for years,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “We hope implementation of this measure will bring greater transparency to the call routing marketplace and sends a bipartisan message about the importance of ongoing efforts to solve call completion problems that threaten public safety, businesses and the general well-being of countless Americans.”

WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband said the bill’s passage recognizes the urgency and importance of solving the problem of calls not being completed in rural areas, according to the association’s SVP Government & Industry Affairs, Derrick Owens. USTelecom President/CEO Jonathan Spalter noted the number of dropped calls in rural areas has dropped over the years. He called the measure “a commonsense step forward to help further ensure that rural calls are completed.”

February 12, 2018

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