Rural Call Completion

The FCC has announced the date for filing comments on various Petitions for Reconsideration of its Rural Call Completion Order. Oppositions to the Petitions are due March 3, 2014; reply comments are due March 11, 2014. 


Adopted in November 2013, the rules require providers of long-distance voice service that make the initial long-distance call path choice for more than 100,000 domestic retail subscriber lines (including LECs, IXCs, wholesale providers, wireless providers, interconnected VoIP providers, and one-way VoIP service providers) to: (1) retain certain records of attempted calls to rural ILEC OCNs for six calendar months; and (2) report certain attempted call data to the FCC on a quarterly basis. Covered providers that meet a narrowly defined safe harbor can reduce their record retention and reporting obligations. Non-covered providers that have more than 100,000 retail subscriber lines will be subject to a one-time notification requirement. See TMI’s article “FCC Adopts Rural Call Completion Rules” dated 10/31/13. TMI Regulatory Bulletin Service subscribers see FCC Bulletin dated 11/13/13.


Five parties filed Petitions for Reconsideration. Several focus on the definition of a covered provider; others are concerned with enforcement. The petitions are summarized below.


COMPTEL asks the FCC to reconsider the contours of the small carrier exemption and reinstate the small carrier exemption set forth in the proposed rules. Alternatively, it asks the FCC to publish notice of, and seek comment on, its proposal to substitute 100,000 subscriber lines for 100,000 subscribers in the definition of small provider; and hold the rules in abeyance pending receipt, processing and issuance of a report and order based on the record developed.


COMPTEL noted that while the FCC’s proposed definition of small carrier was one providing long distance service to 100,000 or fewer subscribers, its final rule adopted a substantially narrower definition of small carrier as one providing long distance service to 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines. COMPTEL notes that the term “subscriber” is not the equivalent of the term “subscriber line.” Thus, by converting “subscriber” in the proposed rule to “subscriber line” in the final rule, the FCC “has cast a much wider net, increasing by 150 percent the number of providers that will have to incur the expense and administrative burdens necessary to comply with the record keeping, reporting and retention requirements.” COMPTEL argues that, because of these different standards, the FCC failed to provide the notice and opportunity to comment required by the various federal laws.


Carolina West Wireless, Inc., a mobile wireless carrier providing service predominantly in rural areas of North Carolina, asked the FCC to modify the definition of “covered provider” so that the lines served by non-controlling minority owners are not counted toward the 100,000 line threshold. It argued that the inclusion of entities that own more than 10 percent of a provider unnecessarily reduces eligibility for the 100,000 line de minimis exception, and thereby imposes a highly burdensome requirement on small providers with no countervailing public interest benefit. Carolina Wireless said it serves fewer than 100,000 customer lines, but believes that it would be considered a covered carrier because one or more of its minority investors provide long-distance service and make the initial call path decision for enough customer lines such that, in the aggregate, it and its “affiliates” would exceed the 100,000 line de minimis threshold.


Sprint Corporation asked the FCC to: (1) reconsider its decision to use the required call completion reports as the basis for subsequent enforcement action; (2) make the Rural ILEC (RLEC) call completion surveys available for thorough independent review; and (3) re-evaluate the cost/benefit ratio of the new rules.


With respect to use of call completion reports as the basis for subsequent enforcement action, Sprint argued that the FCC has provided no guidance as to what behaviors it considers unreasonable, or what performance results are actionable and could therefore trigger an enforcement action. As such, “[r]aising the specter of enforcement action against long distance carriers (to the exclusion of all other parties) based on the mandated reports is unreasonable and arbitrary given that, in many cases, the cause of an incomplete call cannot be determined based on the mandated report or is attributable to factors outside the carrier’s control.” Accordingly, “imposing the burden of an investigation, and the threat of enforcement action, entirely on long distance carriers, is unwarranted.”


The United States Telecom Association and The Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance ask the FCC to reconsider or, in the alternative, grant a waiver from or extend the time to collect and report call attempt data for intraLATA interexchange/toll calls. They state that most ILECs and their affiliated CLECs do not have the capability to collect and report call attempt data for intraLATA interexchange/toll calls that are either carried entirely over the originating LEC’s network (that is, originated and terminated by the same carrier) or handed off by the originating LEC directly to the terminating LEC. They argue that, because these calls do not involve the use of intermediate providers, they do not implicate the concerns articulated by the FCC in its Order. Accordingly, “no reason exists to include call attempt data related to intraLATA interexchange/toll calls in the reports the Commission intends to utilize to ensure that calls are completed in rural areas.” They estimate that to capture call attempt information for intraLATA T A interexchange/toll traffic as required by the FCC’s rules would take at least 18 to 24 months to implement, and possibly longer, and cost the industry in excess of $100 million. They argue that imposing such burdens on covered providers would raise serious issues under the Paperwork Reduction Act, particularly when the information would not aid the FCC’s information collection or otherwise facilitate its ability to address rural call completion problems.


Transcom Enhanced Services, Inc. requested reconsideration of the decision to apply the Ringing Signal Integrity rule to intermediate providers that are not common carriers. Specifically, Transcom challenges the FCC’s legal authority to impose on non-common carriers the requirement that intermediate providers return unaltered to providers in the call path any signaling information that indicates that the terminating provider is alerting the called party. It argues that applying the rule to non-common carriers would: outlaw development, deployment and delivery of potentially beneficial and non-harmful enhanced/information service products; prohibit ESPs from performing enhanced/information functions; and impermissibly mandate assumption of a common carrier duty.


Regulatory Briefing