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.

5 responses to “Call Me – You Might Have to Call Again If I Live in Rural America”

  1. […] Call Me – You Might Have to Call Again If I Live in Rural America David Lewis of ANPI Zone Telecom […]

  2. Steve Pastorkovich Avatar

    The FCC has established a web site for customers to report call completion problems. Be sure to note the date, time, and, most importantly, the originating and terminating telephone numbers. If you know the IXC, that’s very helpful too. Anyone who has this problem is encouraged to use this site:

    1. Ken Avatar

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for reading/viewing and adding this link to the site. Very helpful, as a friend from TN was just asking whether something like this existed. The ironic thing about this problem is I suspect that the mobile networks have conditioned most people to expect any telephone service to have the call completion/quality issues described by Dave. It is a bit odd that in many ways the utility of offering is improving (e.g. mobility, apps, etc.), while the quality of the experience is in decline.

  3. Ken Avatar

    In the ANPI Zone webinar, referenced above, Dave Lewis points out that the roots of this problem go back 5 or 6 years. And, in fact, there are several references to these sort of issues as early as 2007 (see the comments for many of the references).

    Michael Romano of NTCA also touched upon the issue in this video interview:

    In the ANPI Zone webinar, Romano provides a great overview of the history and the current status of the regulatory aspects of issue.

    Bob Knapp of NECA explains the process of how NECA is evaluating the problem and providing their results to the FCC. He points out that this is a rural issue. He also points out that at least one carrier improved their call completion. He says they will be doing additional testing and will be looking for more volunteers and will continue to work with ATIS. Interestingly, he said that Comcast suggested that carriers create test lines to allow for a sort of continuous test process.

    Knapp suggests that carriers continue to share information about how businesses, family and public safety has been impacted by these issues.

  4. […] Steve for adding the valuable link to the FCC site about Call Completion/Quality […]

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