Lawmakers dial up measures to improve rural telephone service
By Derrick Cain
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WASHINGTON, April 9, 2014 - Legislation aimed at improving rural telephone service in terms of call completion and at cracking down on carriers that allegedly discriminate against rural customers is winding through Congress. Both chambers have pending legislation that offers non-binding steps the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could take to improve what some lawmakers say is a growing problem in rural areas.
Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., co-chairmen of the Rural Telecommunications Working Group, introduced a resolution addressing the problem (H. Res. 536) last week, and the measure was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., offered a similar resolution (S. Res. 157) last year with the support of 18 co-sponsors. It was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, on a voice vote, and is pending before the full Senate.
The resolutions express the sense of Congress that all service providers must appropriately complete telephone calls to all areas of the country regardless of the technology they use. Further, they ask the FCC to pursue violators of agency rules, impose enforcement actions to discourage uncompleted telephone calls, and establish a solution to discrimination against communications service in rural areas.
The National Exchange Carrier Association and rural telecommunications carriers say that 6.4 percent of calls to rural areas in the nation failed last year, while only 0.5 percent of calls to urban areas failed. Some 1 percent of calls to rural areas were either of “poor quality or were delayed,” compared to 5 percent of calls to urban areas.
Jill Canfield, assistant general counsel for the NTCA-the Rural Broadband Association, said the connections problems are not concentrated in any particular portion of rural America. “The problem pops up in one area, then is addressed, and pops up again,” Canfield said.
Klobuchar, whose measure was co-sponsored by Senators Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said she will push hard for a Senate floor vote. “Call completion problems don't just prevent families from staying in touch; they hurt small businesses that depend on phone service, and can even endanger citizens trying to make urgent calls,” Klobuchar said.
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