The Oregon Public Utility Commission said Wednesday it has approved rules to help resolve rural telephone problems. The rules are aimed at addressing issues such as calls not being connected, dead air, long setup times, and poor voice quality that have been plaguing rural telephone users.
Since opening the rulemaking in June 2011 (Docket 1547) the commission has received more than 1,600 customer complaints regarding such issues.
The rules would "prohibit intrastate telecommunications certificate holders from blocking, choking, reducing or restricting traffic in any way." The rules also prohibit carriers from engaging in deceptive or misleading practices."
The rules will provide the PUC with the authority to levy fines of up to $50,000 by going to circuit court.
"This is a highly technical problem related to complex telephone networks. However, I am hopeful these measures will lay a strong foundation and incentive to improve the quality of phone service in rural parts of the state," Commission Chair Susan Ackerman said.
Customers who continue to experience these problems should call the Commission's Consumer Section at 1-800-522-2404, so the Commission can investigate.
Telecom companies told the commission that call completion issues are national issues that extend outside the boundaries of Oregon and therefore should be addressed from a national perspective.
"We support a nationwide solution. However, waiting for a national solution can take years. That is not acceptable, Ackerman said. "The commission cannot stand by and do nothing while Oregonians continue to experience these problems daily. Oregonians in the rural areas of our state require quality phone service for their lives and livelihoods."
The rules will make service providers liable for the actions of their underlying carriers.
The rule spells out call termination expectations for certificated telecom providers and the framework for the PUC to hold certificate holders accountable to complete long-distance calls to rural areas with the same accuracy at which they complete to urban areas.
This issue is created by the route the long distance call takes through the caller's long distance company's network which provides the call path before it gets to the rural provider's network where the called party lives.
Because rural areas traditionally have higher costs, rates that rural providers charge to other carriers for completing calls are higher than those charged in urban areas.
Certain providers that route the long distance calls do not wish to incur these higher charges so they either refuse to transport calls to certain rural telephone companies' networks or they route the call in a way to try reduce the cost. This practice is called "least?cost routing."
Call completion issues affect only long distance calls. The call completion issue can be identified by:
·The called person's phone rings but they hear dead air when they answer the call;
• Extremely poor quality on answerable calls (severe echo, garbled, only one way conversation audible);
· The caller ID display is inaccurate or misleading
· The person making the call will hear the phone ringing but the called party hears nothing.