Roundup: FCC Passes Rural Call Rule

Colorado governor visits rural counties • Former representative of rural Missouri district, Ike Skelton, dies • Nebraska looks at role of broadband in retaining young people.

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No More Faking. The Federal Communications Commission told U.S. phone companies yesterday to stop faking it.

The FCC voted 3-0 to issue new rules governing the completion of long-distance calls to rural phones. Among other provisions, the rule bans fake rings. That’s the practice of transmitting an audible ring to the caller’s handset when the phone at the other end of the line is not actually ringing.

The fake ring is part of an elaborate system phone companies have used to find the cheapest route for calls to travel to rural areas. The practice resulted in delays, dropped calls and other interruptions in service.

The new rules require phone companies to collect and report data on the number of calls they put through to rural numbers. And it provides incentives for phone companies to improve their rural call completion rate.

The data could be used in enforcement actions against phone companies that continue to drop calls to rural numbers.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said the commission has been hearing from consumers who are frustrated with current phone-company practices. “We’ve heard about calls from doctors to nursing homes not going through, that calls to businesses aren’t getting completed, and that rural consumers are frustrated when their friends and family are not able to reach them,” she said.

Colorado Governor Visits Secessionist Counties. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has been on a good-will tour of rural counties that are threatening to secede to form their own state because they feel neglected by state government. Hickenlooper was in Weld County, epicenter of the secession movement, last week. He promised to visit the county more frequently in the future and admitted that state government may not have been listening carefully enough to rural concerns. “If that many people feel that we didn’t pay attention, then shame on us,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t pay attention.”

Missouri Congressman Dies. Ike Sketon, the long-time representative of Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District, died this week. He was 81. The Fourth District is the 41st most rural congressional district in the U.S., with nearly half its population living outside metropolitan areas.

Skelton won his first of 17 congressional races in 1976 (endorsed by Bess Truman) and served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He was unseated in 2010 by tea-party backed Republican Vicky Hartzler.

Skelton was a military historian and helped build up Missouri’s two military installations during his tenure.

Broadband and the Brain Drain in Nebraska. Investing in high-speed Internet connections could help Nebraska hang on to its young people, according to testimony given in a state legislative hearing this week. Two men who had returned to rural Nebraska thanks to the ability to telecommute in their jobs told their stories to the interim legislative hearing of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, reports Amy Schweitzer in the Grand Island Independent. Jeff Morris of Aurora, Nebraska, is a patent attorney who returned to Nebraska from California. Taylor Siebert of Henderson, Nebraska, returned to his hometown to start a service that streams sporting events from 28 Nebraska high schools.

The hearings are part of a study of supplementing the cost of broadband access in hard-to-reach areas.

Meanwhile, in North Dakota, with the help of a federal grant the state is investing in high-speed fiber to serve rural customers in parts of the state, reports the Associated Press’ Dave Kolpack.

“It’s expensive to put fiber in the ground and dig the trench from point A to point B, because you have less of a user base,” said Jasper Schneider, head of the state agency that oversees the N.D. broadband grant program. “Having this backbone is significant in making sure that we’re not just having connectivity everywhere, but making sure it’s a high-speed connection.”

 

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