Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal ran a piece called “Rural America Still Waiting for Phone Calls That Won’t Connect,” highlighting the ongoing problem with the completion of calls to rural America. Author Drew FitzGerald did a very good job at explaining the frustrating and perplexing problem that has impacted NTCA member companies for years. A caller places a call to a rural exchange and the calls never hit the telephone company’s switch. When the call is dropped, the caller likely hears a phone ringing or gets…nothing. Having had this happen to me not only while doing some testing but simply when trying to get ahold of someone at a member company, I know the frustration with the dead air but frankly, I am sometimes completely fooled by the phone’s continuous ringing.
FitzGerald noted that the issue is an inconvenience. That is for sure. However, it is also a public safety issue when it impacts emergencies, medical transports, and human well-being. It also has had a significant impact on economic prosperity given the number of small businesses and customers of rural broadband providers who have relocated their business to avoid the recurring problem. I know this having heard many really sad and frustrating examples from the field i.e. the local tire dealer or the electrical company that had too many customer calls dropped along the way.
NTCA’s Mike Romano was quoted in the article sharing that “part of the problem in addressing the issue is that low-cost internet phone companies operate with less regulatory oversight, creating a complete shadow market.” When problems hit, no one can find these companies.
Congress did pass legislation in their ongoing attempts to address this last year that should help the FCC take bigger steps by requiring intermediary companies to register with the FCC. The FCC began implementation of the law in October and (assuming this government shutdown ends soon…) will soon create a registry of middlemen that handle calls for other companies. We will need to wait and see how effective this new process will be but it’s also nice to know that the eyes of many in Congress, including Rep. Peter Welch from Vermont and an original co-sponsor of the legislation, are watching.
Now, if only we could get a hedcut (many ink dots) portrait of Romano in the WSJ, the article would truly have been complete!