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ACA: FCC Can Address Rural Call Completion Problems Without Burdening Local Phone Carriers

The American Cable Association called on the Federal Communications Commission to address rural call completion issues by holding long distance providers responsible because they control call routing and have direct access to data to monitor calls.  In contrast, placing responsibility on local service providers would not be as effective or efficient a solution and would prove burdensome for smaller providers.

"In considering potential solutions, the FCC needs to avoid imposing any rules on local service providers who are not long-distance providers -- a class that includes almost all ACA members.  ACA urges the FCC to ensure that any new regulations are targeted toward initial facilities-based long distance providers," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

ACA addressed the rural call completion problem in comments filed May 13 in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in which the FCC characterized the call completion issue as serious and widespread, producing a variety of harms.

"Many ACA members operate in rural areas, and many are rural incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) who have been at the forefront of highlighting to the FCC the call completion problem and calling for FCC action to remedy these problems.  The FCC supports the FCC's efforts to address rural call completion issues."

In its comments, ACA said it believes that responsibility for fixing any call completion problems should rest with the initial facilities-based long distance provider because that carrier benefits most from provision of the service, controls the call flow (routing and completion) of long-distance calls, and has direct access to complete information about whether a call is completed.

As a result, ACA stated that the FCC need not and should not impose, as it suggested in the NPRM, new monitoring, record retention, and reporting requirements on local exchange voice providers that are not facilities-based, long distance providers. The justification is that these providers do not control call routing and do not have direct access to complete information to track a call to completion.

"Put simply, imposing monitoring and reporting burdens on ACA Members would be an inefficient and less effective solution than placing requirements on the initial facilities-based, long distance provider," Polka said.

To the extent the FCC adopts a broader regulatory scheme, ACA urged the agency to exempt providers with 100,000 or fewer retail long distance subscribers from monitoring and reporting on call attempts. For providers with more than 100,000 long distance subscribers, ACA urged creation of a safe harbor if their access tariffs or contracts with long distance firms require that the long distance provider complete calls the local providers originate in compliance with any regulatory requirements.

ACA underscored that the FCC could ferret out the long distant providers that are causing call completion problems even by exempting the vast majority of ACA Members, given that the large local providers - wireline or wireless - have the most voice subscribers, and wireless providers have most of these.

According to year-end 2011 data, of the 442 million retail local telephone service connections, wireless had twice the number of wireline. As for the 143 million wireline connections, a small group of carriers at the top (incumbent or competitor) have that vast number of subscribers.  In the cable sector, there are 28 million subscriptions, and 90% of these are with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and other top ten multiple system operators.  ACA's cable provider members with 100,000 or fewer voice subscriptions make up about 0.5% of the total connections - a number that is unlikely to uncover and address any call completion problems, justifying the FCC's proposed exemption.

Compliance costs would be substantial without the exemption, ACA said. One ACA member with approximately 20,000 voice subscribers indicated it would take approximately 1,000 person-hours to establish the process to meet the proposed record keeping requirements, require the installation and use of additional equipment to increase its current 14-day call record storage capacity to meet the six month retention requirement, and take over 100 person-hours each month to analyze, audit, and report on the data.

ACA stressed the practicality of a regulatory framework that focused on long distance carriers. Local service providers have a limited role by originating and terminating long-distance calls for long distance providers and do not control call routing between the local service areas.  Thus, the local provider has no role in causing call completion problems.

ACA said that fixing responsibility with the initial facilities-based long distance provider is the most direct and effective solution because these providers can detect call complete problems on their own without needing to gather any additional information about long distance transmissions from the local service provider.  This is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that where a long distance provider uses no intermediate carriers, once it is provided with originating information and the destination from the originating local service provider, it has direct access to all the information required to determine whether a call is completed.

"In other words, the FCC, by looking only to that long distance provider and holding it accountable, can address any call completion problems without involving any other service provider," Polka said. "If the FCC were to impose requirements on the local service provider, it would be burdening two providers for no purpose that would advance the public interest."

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