Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) proposing to require facilities-based originating long-distance voice service providers to collect, retain and report on phone call answer rate data to rural and non-rural areas. The NPRM also proposes to prohibit both originating and intermediate voice service providers from causing so-called “false audible ringing,” in which the caller hears the phone ring before the terminating provider has signaled that the called party has actually been alerted to the incoming call. The NPRM was adopted in response to concerns expressed in various quarters, including on Capitol Hill, about the reliability and quality of long-distance telephone calls to rural parts of the U.S.
One notable element of the NPRM is the proposed requirement that facilities-based originating long-distance voice service providers — which would include local exchange carriers, interexchange carriers, commercial mobile radio service providers, and interconnected Voice over IP (“VoIP”) service providers — with more than 100,000 retail long-distance subscribers collect and retain for six months data on the “call answer rate” for each rural operating company number to which 100 or more calls were attempted in a month. These same providers also would be required to collect and retain for six months data on the “call answer rate” for non-rural calls, thus enabling a comparison of the call answer rate in rural and non-rural areas. In addition, providers would be required to retain for six months data on (1) whether each call attempt was handed off to an intermediate provider, and if so, to which intermediate provider; and (2) whether each call attempt was going to a rural carrier, and if so, to which rural carrier.
The NPRM proposes that this data be submitted to the FCC each calendar quarter to facilitate the identification of which rural areas may be experiencing relatively low call answer rates and help explain why.
The FCC’s proposed approach includes two safe harbors. The first would exempt providers who certify annually that, among other things, they restrict by contract intermediate providers to no more than one additional intermediate provider in the call path before the call reaches the terminating provider. The second would partially exempt providers who certify annually that they have met certain call answer rate performance standards over the previous 12 months, and have a process in place to investigate call answer rate performance that falls below a specified standard.
Once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register interested parties will have 30 days to submit comments, with an additional 15 days available for the submission of reply comments.