Business & Economy

Welch-backed bill on rural phone quality moves ahead

The U.S. House has unanimously passed a bill co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., that aims to improve the quality of rural phone service.

“Whether an emergency call or a business order, Vermonters should have confidence that their calls are completed without disruption,” Welch said in a statement. “This bill helps address the epidemic of dropped calls in rural America and will ensure calls to emergency responders, businesses, customers, family and friends are reliably connected.”

The bill, titled the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act, amends the 1934 Communications Act to “prevent unjust or unreasonable discrimination” in phone service quality for rural residents.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, residents of Vermont and other rural states experience persistent problems with incoming long distance and wireless calls. The FCC reports that such calls are often plagued by choppy sound quality, long ring periods or even prolonged silence before the call connects. Sometimes long distance calls to rural areas will simply not connect, or faxes won’t go through.

The reason relates to the higher charges long distance and wireless carriers have to pay to local telephone companies to complete calls. In the complex process of routing a call to a local company’s network, a national company must pay an additional access charge, which helps cover the higher-than-average costs of setting up rural phone networks.

In efforts to shrink these additional costs, some wireless and long-distance carriers have contracted with third-party companies that route calls as efficiently as possible. In this process, service quality can suffer.

Beginning in April 2015, all major carriers were required to log phone data from calls over 1,300 rural phone networks and report back to the FCC.

The current legislation directs the FCC to establish basic standards for all voice call providers to ensure that quality is consistent across all geographic areas.

If the FCC finds that carriers are not meeting quality standards, it has the power to file civil charges against those companies for violating the Communications Act, which established the FCC and set forth its regulatory powers.

Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, the bill’s chief sponsor, hailed Welch’s work on the bill after it passed out of the chamber last week on a voice vote.

“Americans deserve consistent, quality phone service no matter where they choose to live,” Young said. “I appreciate the support this important legislation has received from members on both sides of the aisle, especially Congressman Welch, as we continue to move it forward and improve phone service for folks in Iowa communities and across rural America.”

A version of the rural call bill passed out of the House and Senate Commerce committees during the last session, and a Welch aide said the Senate is expected to pass the bill soon.

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Jasper Craven

About Jasper

Jasper Craven is VTDigger’s political reporter. A Vermont native, he first discovered his love for journalism at the Caledonian Record. He double-majored in print journalism and political science at Boston University, and worked in the Boston Globe’s Metro and Investigative units. While at the Globe he collaborated on Shadow Campus, a three-part investigative series focused on greed and mismanagement in Boston’s off-campus student housing market. The series was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.
He also spent two years at MuckRock, a news sited dedicated to investigation and analysis of government documents. 

Craven covered Vermont’s U.S. Congressional delegation for the Times Argus in the summer of 2014, and worked as a Metro reporter for the Chicago Tribune before joining the staff of VTDigger.

Email: [email protected]

Follow Jasper on Twitter @Jasper_Craven

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  • Rep. Welch is to be commended. This has been going on for over 10 years, the industry associations have been ineffective. Hooray for unfettered competition in the phone business. The fly-by-nites started this and then the big carriers had to follow suit.
    I hope he keeps slugging away at the completely pointless and damaging ethanol mandates as well. His issues aren’t flashy but he deserves our support.

  • chris halpin

    Hands Reaching Out Across the Aisle, Peter, is what We sorely Need. Thank U.

  • Matt Fisken

    Remember that once your call is converted to a wireLESS microwave signal, all bets are off. Yes, Vermont’s main wireline phone/internet provider has its issues too, but if you ditch your landline and expect wireless to work just as well, then you will be disappointed. You’ve chosen to live in a place that is covered in mountains and trees, which do not discriminate when interfering with phone calls.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    In 1945 the phone line never went dead. There was never static on the line. My rotary phone never failed. Through hurricanes and blizzards the land line phone system never went down. Now FairPoint can’t even keep dial tone on my line.

    FairPoint told me they don’t have any engineers to diagnose problems. I hired my own. He tells me FairPoint equipment is bad – and there is an issue of distance from the central office which sould be fixed.

    VT PSB is of no help with intermittent problems.

  • Gary Murdock

    Vermont will not benefit from this bill. Improvements will require infrastructure that is stopped at every turn here by Act 250, environmental and neighbor protest groups. Can you here me now? No, because Mothers Against Microwaves, CLF and VPIRG stopped the black box from being built.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Congressman Welch should call FairPoint customer service and see first hand how customers are treated. And that is not the worse of it. Imagine being elderly with a cardiac problem and NOT being able to call 911 or anyone else because the system is down.

    Just Google “Problems with FairPoint”.

  • Michel Guite

    VT Digger political reporter Jasper Craven could further augment this carefully-written story by reporting on a parallel effort Congressman Welch initiated, in the form of a polite and constructive and public letter — co-signed by 71 Republican as Democrat congressmen — sent yesterday to President Trump, urging that a high priority for new infrastructure spending should be rural broadband Internet delivery.

  • This has nothing to do with poor wireless coverage, nothing to do with dial tone problems. It is about long distance carriers getting around paying the access fees smaller phone cos tend to charge due to lo numbers of customers per square mile. But customers waiting on calls from loved ones and potential employers file complaints against the local co because complaining to a long distance carrier is like kicking at jello.