FCC Needs to Answer the Call

By: U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R–Neb.)

The advent of the telephone has revolutionized not only the way we stay in touch with our family and friends, but also how we conduct business and grow our economy. The telephone has the power to connect people in rural areas of America to our urban hubs and to each other.  What once required a major journey across the countryside is now literally a phone call away. 

The ability to deliver a message via telephone gave rise to the fax machine, paved the way for the Internet and provided infrastructure for a host of consumer and commercial tools to conduct business.  The telephone has undoubtedly become a fundamental necessity in modern America. 

But what if you picked up the phone to check in on a sick family member or to place an important order for your business, and you weren’t able to connect?  What if the quality of your call was so poor that you couldn’t get your message across?  For some Nebraskans in remote places or in urban centers with outdated infrastructure, this isn’t a hypothetical question. 

I’ve heard from a number of consumers and businesses about the ongoing problems hampering telephone service, especially in rural areas.  Some calls have poor voice quality, incorrect caller ID information, or simply fail to connect.  This is cause for concern on several levels. 

Small businesses can’t afford to miss out on lost opportunities because of poor telephone service. Call failures also become a public safety concern if a consumer isn’t able to send or receive urgent information in times of crisis.  This is especially problematic in remote parts of the country, where advanced communications infrastructure is still being developed. 

Nebraskans depend on clear and reliable telephone service, and sporadic access to quality connections is unacceptable in the information age.  I’ve been working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address call completion issues and to ensure that more Americans, from major cities to rural prairies, have access to reliable service.  In May of last year, I introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action to address call completion issues in rural America, and crack down on telephone service providers that discriminate against rural customers. 

Last October, the FCC unanimously agreed to move forward with a rule that would improve its ability to investigate instances of discrimination, in which telephone service providers don’t give some customers the same priority as others when connecting calls.  This rule would also allow the FCC to compile statistics on call failures so it can develop an efficient and effective strategy to help remedy the issue. 

Unfortunately, after sending the signal that fixing these problems would be a priority, the FCC neglected to take necessary administrative steps to move forward with plans to address this issue.  Last week, I sent a letter with a number of my colleagues urging the FCC to follow through on improving telephone service in rural areas. The FCC unanimously agreed that fixing rural telephone connection issues was a priority, but it hasn’t followed through with meaningful efforts to achieve this goal.

It’s not good enough for a federal agency to pay lip service to a real and persistent problem, but then stop short of finding a solution.  All too often in Washington, federal officials are willing to talk about problems facing Americans, but when it comes time for them to act, the federal government misses the mark—either by forcing unnecessarily burdensome regulations that fail to target real problems, or by simply not following through with the promises they’ve made. 

Americans shouldn’t have to demand their government to be responsible and stick to its word to address real problems – they expect it.  I am going to continue my work to keep the FCC accountable, and ensure it acts on its stated goal to address telephone service quality issues impacting everyday Nebraskans and people across the nation.