Call Me – You Might Have to Call Again If I Live in Rural America

Trying to make a simple phone call last week presented a bit of a challenge in rural North Dakota. There was a delay – a long delay, like the kind I would have expected when making an international call some 30 years ago.  There might have even been a call that wasn’t completed.  I can’t remember exactly, as the frustration of not being able to connect, blurred my mind to the idea of actually trying to measure the time it took to connect or to try multiple phone calls to see how many wouldn’t complete.

Fortunately, last spring, NECA led an effort to make these measurements and reported them to the FCC at the end of May. Although improved from their more limited September 2011 measurement, they still measured,

“Overall incompletion rates for calls placed to rural test lines were 13 times higher than the incompletion rates for calls placed to non-rural test lines.  Of the 100 rural telephone lines tested, 20% of calls did not go through at all, while an even greater percentage experienced call quality issues.”

At last April’s IP Possibilities conference, David Lewis of ANPI Zone Telecom characterized these issues as the “devolvement” of the Public Switched Telephone Network. As a carrier’s carrier and serving 700 rural customers, Lewis brings a broad perspective to this issue. In the above interview, Lewis discusses some of the root causes of Call Completion, the challenges in fixing those root causes and the aforementioned NECA test to quantify the extent of the problem.

And the problem fundamentally comes down to economics, as he points out in this interview, as carriers implement least call routing and standards are not necessarily being adhered to, the way they would have been in the past. ATIS is supporting the effort to make sure standards are in place, but enforcement is still a question.

An image depicting the flow of how rural calls are sometimes not completed.

Image courtesy of NTCA (added 2/24/15)

Lewis calls the commercial impact devastating. He cites an example of a rural sawmill where call completion/call quality issues are having an outsize impact on their ability to transact commerce. The impact extends to safety, as Lewis points out there are examples of E911 calls not being completed; which could be a matter of life and death.  Finally, Lewis suggests a path for the FCC to handle the issue under existing statues.

For more on the call completion issue, check out the recorded webinar on the ANPI Zone Telecom website

Thanks to Roger Bindl for filming the above video.