Rural call completion: the problem and the progress

phoneWhether you live in a rural or an urban area, you should know about a troubling phone problem: rural call completion (or the lack of it). TDS has been working with other local phone companies to highlight this growing issue and we are pleased to announce that our efforts are paying off. Recently, Senate Resolution 157 was introduced to Congress, which recognizes the negative impact of calls failing to complete for business and residential consumers. (If you’d like to read the resolution, you can find it here.

If you’re not familiar with this problem, here’s what’s happening:

While rural callers can make outgoing calls, they’re increasingly having trouble receiving incoming phone calls. Essentially, if you live in an urban area and are trying to call a friend who lives in a rural one, the call might not go through. Even if you dial and hear ringing on your handset, the phone might not actually ring on the other end. There have also been many complaints about poor sound quality when calls do go through.

Unfortunately, many of our customers are being affected by this problem, but it has nothing to do with TDS systems or local services. The call completion issues occur outside of our networks and due to something called “least cost routing.”

Here’s why it’s happening:
Since phone service began, the government has been committed to a powerful idea—that everyone in the U.S is entitled to phone service at an affordable rate. But, providing phone service to rural areas is more expensive (same costly network, fewer customers). To help “level the playing field” between urban and rural providers, the FCC created a fee structure designed to help. Those fees, paid when an urban caller makes a call to a rural one, help subsidize the cost of rural phone service.

The urban companies pay fees based on where a call comes from and what kind of call it is. With circuit-based switching it is easy to track this information because the path for each call was clear. But, with the rise of voice over Internet (called voice over Internet protocol or VOIP) things have changed. VOIP-based services are not regulated like “normal” phone calls. Companies are not required to track a phone call route or the price they pay for routing traffic. Instead, prices to handle phone calls are negotiated behind the scenes.

The Daily Yonder offers this great summary of what’s happening now (with my emphasis):

    “In the last several years, businesses called “least cost routing” companies have sprung up…Since completing calls to rural areas is expensive, least cost routers generally try to find long, complicated routes that will minimize the termination fees and other charges by making the call look like it comes from someplace with lower fees. This introduces something called “latency.” [in other words, a delay] The lengthy routes mess up the IP-based phone call, causing long breaks in the signal that the traditional phone network (operated by a rural phone company) interprets as dead air or a disconnect.

How TDS is helping:
Senate Resolution 157 is a wonderful step forward. We applaud the leadership efforts of the Resolution’s sponsors and the 10 co-sponsors—and we’ll brag a bit and tell you that 5 of those Senators are from TDS states and co-sponsored at the urging of our group. TDS is hopeful that the FCC will take action on the recent Senate Resolution because it calls for specific and enforceable action to fix the problem. We strongly believe that completed calls are not a luxury.

How you can help:
The FCC is asking consumers to report the problem whenever possible. Write down the date and time of the calls(s) were made or attempted, the calling and called telephone numbers, and if possible, the name of the long distance or wireless telephone provider. Report these details of the problem to your long distance or wireless provider.

You can also file a complaint with the FCC using this form.

In summary, please know that TDS is well aware of the problem and we’re doing what we can to generate change. We believe you deserve great service and we’re committed to making that happen.

About Missy Kellor

Missy works on the Corporate Communications team and reports stories to TDS employees and customers. This is right up her alley because she’s an extrovert and also a big fan of research (really, she’ll look up just about anything that strikes her interest). Missy is a native of Madison, Wis. with an undergraduate in Anthropology and a master’s degree in Life Sciences Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her interest in the Internet as a mass media shaped her work towards a PhD in Journalism and Mass Communications. She’s also worked as an editorial assistant, copywriter, and production artist. In her off hours, Missy is a crafter, Pinterest addict, reader, wife, and mom of two kids. You can find Missy on G+ and on Twitter.

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