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Thune, Klobuchar want all calls to connect

US Capitol

JUNE 30, 2016 - PIERRE & SIOUX FALLS – Persistent phone call completion problems in rural states are creating major inconveniences for families, hurting businesses, and threatening public safety, but a bill introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and supported by Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) could fix the problem.

The Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish basic quality standards for providers that transmit voice calls to help ensure businesses, families, and emergency responders can count on phone calls being completed. The bill passed the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chaired by Thune. The legislation next goes before the full Senate. Companion legislation has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The problem of call completion has been plaguing rural America for several years. Long distance calls destined for rural areas are not be completed or callers hear a busy signal even though the party on the other end is not on the phone. Getting to the exact root of the problem has been challenging due to the complex nature of how calls are routed from start to finish.

Representatives of the South Dakota Telecommunications Association and SDN Communications praised the Senate Commerce Committee’s passage of Senate Bill 827.

SDTA Executive Director Rich Coit says the legislation is a significant first step, and he applauds Klobuchar and Thune for their bipartisan work to solve this problem.

“Call completion has been a problem that has negatively impacted rural consumers, including schools, businesses, government facilities and heath care organizations across rural America,” Coit said. “With all the advancements in technology, it has been very frustrating to hear stories from customers about lost business opportunities, inability for senior citizens to connect with health care facilities or school administrators not being able to get important messages to parents. SDTA believes this bill could change that and greatly benefit rural consumers.”

SDN Communications in Sioux Falls houses the centralized telephone switching equipment that routes about one million long distance calls a day for South Dakota independent telephone companies, which serve nearly 80 percent of South Dakota’s geography.

“In working with our industry partners, we can tell there are calls each month that never get to our network even though the call has been properly originated,” SDN CEO Mark Shlanta said. “Somewhere in the middle, before it gets to our switch, the call gets dropped, and that can have significant consequences for people all across rural America.”

Coit and Shlanta both saluted the work of Chairman Thune on this bill and his efforts to bring it to a committee vote.

“Without the strong support of Sen. Thune, this bill could have languished for a long time,” Coit said.

“Chairman Thune deserves a lot of credit for getting this through the Commerce Committee,” Shlanta said. “He understands how important it is for rural America to have reliable telecommunication services, and this bill is a good step toward correcting a troubling problem.”