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Guest Opinion: Rural call completion bill signed into law

Amy Klobuchar U S Senate candidate Minnesota Dave Wallis / The Forum

Minnesotans across our state are having trouble completing phone calls: a small business owner in Brainerd losing out to competitors because she can't reach customers; a Fergus Falls elementary school struggling to alert parents about a closure before a big storm hits; an on-call surgeon in Randall who never receives the call from a nearby hospital for an emergency surgery. Persistent phone call completion problems can be a serious inconvenience in rural Minnesota and for some, a dropped call can have much more dangerous consequences

That's why, as a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I've made better phone service for rural America a priority. In oversight hearings, I've consistently pressed the FCC to take action. And it's why Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota and I led the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act to get to the root of rural call completion problems. With bipartisan compromise and cooperation, we were able to move this bill through Congress and get it signed into law by the President.

This law directs the FCC to establish basic common sense standards for providers that transmit voice calls and create a registry for least cost-routers. It's a reform that is critical to providing our rural communities with consistent high-quality phone service.

I've heard from people across Minnesota about the headaches caused by delayed calls, poor voice quality, a lack of caller ID information, and calls that are never connected because some phone routers fail to connect or drop calls in rural areas. This is simply unacceptable. A person's ability to make or receive a call shouldn't be determined by his or her zip code.

Telecommunications technology has made strides over the past decade, but that progress hasn't always led to better service for rural America. For years, rural consumers have faced call completion problems rarely experienced by those living in metropolitan areas. These call completion issues often occur when carriers choose "least-cost routing services" in order to save money when providing phone service in rural areas where the cost to deliver a call is higher. We can't allow this to continue—rural customers deserve the same access to quality communications as everyone else.

A 2012 test call project found that nearly one in five calls placed to rural areas were delayed, of poor quality, or incomplete. And for years, consumers have had few options but to take their stories of incomplete calls to the Federal Communications Commission.

Take the owners of Mattracks, a truck track manufacturer based in Karlstad. They've faced call completion issues so severe that their customers were forced to buy products from competitors. We should be making it easier for rural businesses to succeed, not hurting their bottom line.

Minnesota's rural communities play a crucial role in powering our state's economy. When we hold large national telephone networks accountable for using quality, registered routers, we can help make networks more reliable and ensure that businesses compete, families can stay connected, and emergency responders can count on their phone calls being completed.