T-Mobile USA agreed to pay a $40 million fine after the Federal Communications Commission concluded the company failed to fix rural calling problems that violated federal law. 

The carrier admitted to adding fake ringtones in an effort to make hundreds of millions of callers believe the parties they dialed were hearing their phones ring, when in fact the call might not have been connected in the first place. The firm also agreed to enter into a compliance plan to prevent future violations.

“It is a basic tenet of the nation’s phone system that calls be completed to the called party, without a reduction in the call quality—even when the calls pass through intermediate providers.  The FCC is committed to ensuring that phone calls to all Americans, including rural Americans, go through,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (shown above).

According to the FCC, the agency’s enforcement bureau opened an investigation following rural carrier and consumer complaints that T-Mobile callers were unable to reach consumers served by three rural carriers in Wisconsin.  Although T-Mobile reported to the FCC that the problems had been “resolved,” the commission continued to receive complaints that calls were failing.  In addition, call completion complaints filed directly with T-Mobile showed patterns of problems with call delivery to consumers in at least seven other rural areas.

The investigation also revealed T-Mobile’s practice of injecting false ring tones into certain calls.  T-Mobile reported that it had done so on hundreds of millions of calls and admitted that its actions violated the commission’s prohibition of injecting false ring tones on any calls.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a statement that T-Mobile’s “massively deceptive and harmful violations” of the rules likely affected “billions of telephone calls to rural areas over the past several years." She described the fine as “inadequate given the harm.”

T-Mobile said it had corrected what it called the “unintentional” issue in January 2017 and added that it is “committed to all of our customers across the country.”

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association applauded the FCC’s investigation into what it described as the “call completion epidemic.”

“Rural consumers and businesses have suffered rural call failure since 2010. Continued vigilance on the part of industry and the commission, combined with enforceable regulatory backstops, clearly remain essential to ensure that rural call failure will not compromise the integrity of our nation’s networks and the safety and welfare of rural communities,” said CEO Shirley Bloomfield.

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