According to the FCC, Verizon is going to shell out a total $5 million to settle an investigation into reports that certain rural customers were experiencing connection and call quality issues. $2 million is to be paid as a direct fine to the FCC while the remaining $3 million will go towards improving call quality and connectivity over the next three years in those rural areas. This is to include both landline and wireless communications in those areas.
The investigation by the FCC came about as the result of a letter sent by local exchange carriers in June of 2011. The letter stated that there was, “a nationwide and industry-wide epidemic,” of calls failing to complete or having poor or degraded call quality. This prompted the FCC to create a Rural Call Completion Task Force in September of 2011. This task force was created to investigate the issues of poor quality and frequent failure to connect issues that had been reported. This prompted a February 6, 2012 ruling called the Rural Call Completion Declaratory Ruling which states that if a carrier knows of an issue regarding call completion or quality and fails to make a reasonable attempt to fix the situation that it would be in violation of the law and subject to penalties etc. This culminated into the Rural Call Completion Order on November 8, 2013 which outlines rules that carriers must follow in order to properly report answer rates for calls. It also stated the concern that landline and wireless communications are critical to the nation and that failures in that critical communication structure could cause serious problems to emergency response, business, and by cutting families off from their relatives. These regulations also state that carriers cannot discriminate call traffic to more expensive or less profitable areas.
Verizon complied with the regulations in 2013, making reports to the FCC about rural connectivity and quality issues. The FCC issued a letter of inquiry to Verizon to obtain information about what caused Verizon’s persistently low call answer rates for 39 specific rural areas. Verizon admitted to taking action based on investigations on 13 of the 39 areas, but did not take action on the other 26. Verizon did eventually take action on the remaining 26 areas after the letter of inquiry.
So what does all of this mean for Verizon? Verizon has been ordered to designate a Vice President of Compliance, or a Compliance Officer. Verizon will also have to implement a compliance plan to ensure that it and its contractors and employees follow the Rural Call Completion Rules and with the ruling made today by the FCC. This plan must outline operating procedures and how the company plans to handle various investigative needs such as customer complaints, service interruptions or negative spikes in service as well as making a checklist for employees to follow to ensure compliance. Verizon will also hold workshops and various training methods to ensure that key employees are up to par with the latest regulations and procedures. They will also contribute to an academic grant to the tune of $30,000 – $50,000 to study ways to avoid the rural call connectivity issues as well as ways to detect problems so that they can be fixed.
It is important to note that this investigation was concerning voice calls and not text or data. It is good to see the FCC doing things as they should to protect the consumer. Poor communication can be a dangerous thing. We can only hope that Verizon takes this issue seriously and continues to comply with regulations that will improve call connectivity and quality to people in rural areas.