Calling unreliable landline phone service an "epidemic" in rural America, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, is co-sponsoring legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that he predicted will improve service.
"We're paying for reliability and we're not getting it," Welch said of the problem of dropped calls or poor sound quality on landline phone calls.
Welch said he is troubled by estimates from some rural parts of the country, where it is believed nearly one in five inbound calls to landline phones are not completed, or it is difficult to hear the voice on the other end of the line.
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The problem, Welch said, is usually not with local phone companies, but with third-party providers. They can "bounce" calls all across the country using routers that aim to deliver services cheaply. But all that bouncing can result in lost calls or poor sound quality, Welch explained.
"The real ripoff here is that they're getting paid to do a job, and they're not doing it," Welch said.
Welch is the co-sponsor of a new bill that would bar providers from using any middle-man long distance call routing service that's not registered with the Federal Communications Commission.
The Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act would hold third-party providers accountable by requiring them to register with the FCC and meet quality standards ensuring rural Americans can rely on their phone service, Welch’s office said in a news release.
At Camel's Hump Middle School in Richmond Vermont, principal Mark Carbone told necn he worries that the school's phones may not always be working the way he expects. "I can't have 10 percent of the phone calls not going through," Carbone said.
Carbone said parents regularly complain they never received robo-calls, even though they've signed up with their number. That means families can show up unaware school was canceled during a snow storm, for example.
"It would be nice to get it fixed," Carbone said of the problem of dropped calls.
Vermont's famous Basin Harbor Club, where guests enjoy golf and activities on Lake Champlain in Panton, blames that router bouncing for lost bookings when customer calls wouldn't connect.
The resort's Brian Goodyear said potential visitors have told him they called the destination, only to have no one pick up at the resort. Goodyear said his phones never rang those times potential travelers reported not reaching an employee, and the travelers likely picked another spot to visit.
Goodyear said the resort was forced to change carriers and spend more on telecommunications in an attempt to avoid dropped calls.
"During the time [the problem] was at peak, I'd say it was costing us tens of thousands of dollars in potential lost revenue," Goodyear said of the phone problems.
Rep. Welch has repeatedly acknowledged this Congress can't seem to get much done, but on the phone front, he said there is bipartisan agreement. He told necn he is optimistic he'll make progress on this issue.