Phone companies were on the hook for millions of dollars Monday as the Federal Communications Commission signaled Verizon had agreed to pay $5 million to settle an agency inquiry into the telco's alleged failure to investigate rural call completion issues, and that the agency is fining Advanced Tel Inc. almost $1.6 million for failing to pay Universal Service Fund fees.
“All phone companies are required to participate in universal access programs so that consumers everywhere have access to critical telecommunications services,” said Travis LeBlanc, Enforcement Bureau chief, of the Advanced Tel fine. “Service providers who flagrantly avoid these responsibilities damage these programs and the public interest, and we demonstrate today that we will hold them accountable.”
Of the Verizon settlement, LeBlanc said: “All Americans, no matter where they are located, have a right to make and receive phone calls. Phone companies are on notice that the FCC will hold them accountable for failures to investigate and ensure that calls go through to the rural heartland of the country.”
LeBlanc has made it clear that under his watch the Enforcement Bureau would be an active arm of the FCC.
Verizon is paying $2 million to the U.S. Treasury and will spend $3 million over the next three years to "address the problem of rural call completion."
"Although the Bureau had significant concerns with Verizon’s failure to investigate," the FCC said in a statement, "it is encouraged by Verizon’s commitment of significant resources over the next three years toward addressing rural call completion and encourages participation by other industry players and the academic community in the workshops and other broader efforts that are required under the consent decree."
Verizon has agreed to do the following:
• "Pay a fine of $2 million to the U.S. Treasury;
• "Commit an additional $3 million over the next three years to address the problem of rural call completion on a company- and industry-wide basis;
• "Appoint a Rural Call Completion Ombudsman within Verizon to centralize analysis of rural call completion problems;
• "Develop a system to automatically identify customer complaints that may be related to rural call completion issues;
• "Limit its use of intermediate providers, i.e., telecommunications providers between the Verizon network and the local rural provider, that are often the source of call completion problems;
• "Monitor its call answer rates to individual rural areas and conduct an investigation when rates to an area fall below a set threshold in any month;
• "Host industry workshops and sponsor an academic study on methods to detect and resolve rural call completion problems;
• "Provide quarterly summaries of its investigations to the FCC and meet periodically with Commission staff to identify lessons learned; and
• "Prepare a report to be publicly filed with the Commission at the end of the three-year compliance period."
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.