It has been years in the making and hundreds of visits, calls, sharing of horror stories, workshops required of large carriers and prodding of policymakers but at 4:45 am this morning, the United States House of Representatives passed the last hurdle and formally voted through S.96, the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act, a key tool in the toolkit to prevent least-cost routers from dropping calls to rural America. The legislation passed the House and the Senate in 2017 but for procedural reasons was held up and had to go through the gauntlet one more time. It is now being sent to the President to sign.
There has been nothing more heartbreaking or frustrating than receiving calls from NTCA members who have angry consumers, have lost key small businesses or have had to literally track down customers to ensure they are ok because family members cannot get ahold of them. The problem sounds surreal but as part of a testing group – on two occasions – I was personally stunned when less than 70 percent of the test calls I made to my NTCA members in these impacted rural communities went through. Think of the missed opportunities and economic impact on a rural business when that happens? The other frustrating part of the scourge has been the “whack a mole” aspect of it. Once a least cost router is put on notice, the calls start making their way through again…until the heat is off and then they don’t
Mitigating call completion issues has long been a priority of the rural telecommunications industry, and NTCA applauds the many members of Congress and their staff who have worked diligently for several years to help address this issue.
In particular, NTCA thanks Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. John Thune (R–S.D.), and Sen. Jon Tester (D–Mont.) for their sponsorship of the Senate Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act (S. 96), Reps. David Young (R–Iowa) and Peter Welch (D–Vt.) for their sponsorship of identical legislation in the House (H.R. 460), and for the support of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including the committee’s chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R–Oregon). These members of Congress – working across the aisle – hung in there for every step of the way and through more than one Congress to get this done. Senator Klobuchar used every opportunity to share how this was impacting folks in rural Minnesota and Congressman Young, a former Chief of Staff to Senator Grassley, introduced this bill his first year in office and gave an impassioned speech on the floor yesterday where he noted that he didn’t care whose name or what legislative body had the bill number, it simply needed to get done. I was cheering him on while sitting at my computer watching the first set of proceedings yesterday (let’s just say that the day was a long one given that after the voice vote to move it, it was then held up as part of the enticement to get Members of Congress to stick around to approve the spending bill.
Tammie Logan, a key member of our legislative team on this initiative noted appropriately and humorously that she was hoping that the calls that Member of Congress made home yesterday noting that they would be home late actually made it through!) But Tammie’s note at 4:45 am that final passage was completed was a sweet one…even if I did not read it until a few hours later.
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. We hope implementation of this measure will bring greater transparency to the call routing marketplace and sends a bipartisan message about the importance of on-going efforts to solve call completion problems that threaten public safety, businesses and the general well-being of countless Americans.
Once implemented, the legislation will require intermediate telecommunications providers that transmit voice calls from one destination to another to register with the FCC and comply with service quality standards established by the agency.