T-Mo, FCC Reach Détente Over Dropped Rural Calls

T-Mobile and the FCC reached a settlement over uncompleted calls in rural areas. The carrier will pay $40 million to the U.S. Treasury and enter into a compliance plan to prevent future violations. In exchange, the Commission stopped its investigation.

The Enforcement Bureau began its probe after receiving over 40 complaints from rural carriers and consumers in the summer of 2016, that T-Mobile callers couldn’t reach consumers served by three rural carriers in Wisconsin. Although T-Mobile reported to the FCC the problems had been resolved, the Commission continued to receive complaints.

As it evaluated the compliance data, the agency said it found patterns of grievances, alleging T-Mobile’s failure to complete calls to at least seven rural incumbent Local Exchange Carrier Operating Company Numbers (OCN), in addition to the three Wisconsin OCNs. Call completion complaints filed directly with T-Mobile, showed patterns of problems with call delivery, according to the bureau. 

Dropped or uncompleted calls have a considerable impact, according to the FCC, by causing rural businesses to lose revenue, impede medical professionals from reaching patients in rural areas and cut families off from their relatives. They also create the potential for dangerous delays in public safety communications, cites the agency.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association agreed, and applauded the announcement about what association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield calls an epidemic. “Rural consumers and businesses have suffered rural call failure since 2010. Continued vigilance on the part of industry and the Commission, combined with enforceable regulatory backstops, clearly remain essential to ensure that rural call failure will not compromise the integrity of our nation’s networks and the safety and welfare of rural communities.”

During the investigation, the FCC also discovered T-Mobile injected false ringtones into certain calls. That’s a violation of FCC rules. “False ringtones cause callers to believe that the phone is ringing at the called party’s premises when it is not. A caller may then hang up, thinking no one is available to receive the call,” said the bureau in its decision. “False ring tones also create a misleading impression that a caller’s service provider is not responsible if the call fails.” The bureau calls false ringtones “a symptom of the problems of impaired quality” and call completion problems in rural areas.

T-Mobile agreed to pay the money within 30 days. As part of its compliance program, the carrier agreed to establish a dedicated contact for rural call complaints within 90 days. The contact information will be listed in the Service Provider Directory maintained by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, which is used for carrier-to-carrier communications concerning the resolution of technical problems, including rural call completion issues.  

April 17, 2018

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