Joining Level 3 (March 2013), mid-sized carrier Windstream entered into a consent decree with the FCC over Rural Call Completion issues. The call completion problems occurred largely with Windstream’s CLEC affiliate PAETEC Communications. The FCC had accused Windstream of failing to ensure service was not degraded on calls to rural markets and to ensure “that intermediate providers, least-cost routers, or other entities acting for or employed by the carrier are performing adequately,” as required by Sections 201(b) and 202(a) of the Communications Act. When a carrier is aware of service problems, just staying the course can be an unjust and unreasonable practice, according to the FCC.
Windstream agreed to make a $2.5 million voluntary payment to the U.S. Treasury and to institute a compliance program and reporting requirements for three years. Included in the compliance plan are:
- A mandate to educate employees;
- A requirement to follow the new Rural Call Completion rules and to self-report any compliance failures;
- A joint effort with FCC staff to establish testing points and procedures; and
- An obligation to work with intermediate carriers (including least-cost routers) to avoid call blocking or degradation and to cease doing business with intermediate providers on specific routes where problems cannot be worked out satisfactorily.
The consent decree also includes a requirement to conform Windstream’s compliance efforts to any future revisions of FCC rules or policies.
Although it has taken the FCC a long time to develop Rural Call Completion rules and to address complaints that calls are not being completed to rural communities, one should expect vigorous enforcement by the FCC. This enforcement effort will likely result in more fines and consent decrees. Any carrier that regularly uses intermediate carriers, especially least-cost routers, may wish to consider conducting an internal audit of its call routing practices, as well as to determine whether it is subject to the new Rural Call Blocking reporting requirements.
If you have any questions about this Client Alert or call completion regulations, please contact Robert Jackson at email@example.com.