I made a passing reference to the rural call completion problem in a post about 2 months ago. I’ve now written a much longer piece explaining the problem of rural call completion, and the nature of the problem, for the Daily Yonder. You can find the article, and the very nice illustrations they added, over here.

To give a very brief recap for why y’all should click through to learn the details of rural call completion — rural call completion is an unexpected side effect of the transition of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to an all-IP based network. Using IP-packets gives you greater flexibility to pick how you route calls. To avoid very expensive rural termination fees (which subsidize rural systems and keep them operating), Least Call Router systems can send calls through lots of hops, creating latency or even trapping the call in a perpetual loop. As a result, calls to some rural systems don’t go through, or quality degrades to where rural areas may not be able to have reliable phone service or reliably reach 9-1-1. The FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address the problem, and every Commissioner has emphasized that making sure the phone netwok remains reliable is a core mission of the FCC.

I and my Public Knowledge colleagues have emphasized both network reliability and service to all Americans as part of our “Five Fundamentals Framework” to guide the transition of the PSTN to all-IP. The rural call completion problem demonstrates precisely why we need a framework to guide us, rather than jumping right away into the “deregulation v. regulation” fight so many people want to have instead of focusing on the real issues.

It is also an example of a phenomenon I call “network neuropathy,” how problems in networks may first manifest themselves in failures of service around the extremities.

More below . . . .

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