April 25, 2012 (2012-003) UM 1547
Contacts: Susan Ackerman, Commissioner, 503 378-6611, Stephen Bloom, Commissioner, 503 378-6611, John Savage, Commissioner, 503 378-6611, Bob Valdez, Public Affairs Specialist, 503 378-8962
Salem, OR. Staff with the Oregon Public Utility Commission is recommending the Commission conduct an emergency rulemaking to explicitly prohibit call completion discrimination and hold originating long distance carriers responsible for call termination problems affecting customers in rural Oregon.
Since January of 2011 the PUC has received over 1,600 customer complaints regarding call completion issues. Customer complaints include reports of dead air on the line when the call is answered, long setup times, poor voice quality and difficulty receiving faxes. In its Comments, Staff states that it is convinced that these trouble reports do not represent the true size of the problem, which may be much more extensive.
Staff said that "based on the scope and magnitude of the current call completion problem -- including real damages to individuals' livelihoods and threats to public safety -- there can be no doubt that the public interest necessitates that carriers be required to provide equivalent, non-discriminatory service in rural areas."
Staff believes a portion of this problem can be linked to "least cost routing" arrangements, where long distance carriers use third parties to complete calls in high-cost areas in order to reduce costs. The problem is further exacerbated by phone calls carried over the internet using sub-standard internet protocol technology for termination on the public switched telephone network.
Staff said while the PUC has broad authority over the telecom industry, there are no explicit rules or statutes prohibiting discriminatory practices by long distance telecom providers. Existing standards setting minimum levels of call blocking are too broad to address the problem.
Staff argues the PUC should not wait for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action nationally on a problem that is having a direct impact on Oregon’s rural residents.
Staff has suggested that the emergency rule might include provisions that prohibit blocking, choking, reducing, or restricting traffic in any way and require long distance carriers provide services to all localities on a non-discriminatory basis. Proposed rulemaking could also add a provision to hold the originating long distance service provider accountable to ensure termination of their customer’s calls.
Due to significant consumer harm resulting from the current situation Staff is recommending that the PUC make the amendments to OAR 860-032-0007 in an emergency rulemaking with a permanent rulemaking to follow.
The Commission has yet to consider this matter. The comments by Staff do not represent a Commission position.