U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Thune (R-SD), and Jon Tester (D-MT) and Congressmen David Young (R-IA) and Peter Welch (D-VT) today announced that their bipartisan legislation to improve rural call completion has passed the House and will head to the President's desk for signature. Persistent phone call completion problems in rural communities are creating major inconveniences for families, hurting businesses, and threatening public safety. The Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act will direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require providers that transmit voice calls to register with the agency and establish quality standards for transmitting voice calls. These reforms will help ensure small businesses, families, and emergency responders in rural America can once again rely upon their telephone calls being completed.
"Rural communities across Minnesota have been suffering from unreliable phone service for years. Setting these commonsense standards for providers will help ensure that people can stay connected, run their businesses, and reach the emergency services they need," Klobuchar said. "This law is a critical step in ending chronic call completion problems and an investment in the safety and strength of rural America."
"Folks who live and work in rural communities throughout South Dakota don't always enjoy the luxury of something as simple as phone call completion, a task most people in more urban areas might take for granted," said Thune. "While significant improvements have been made over the years, too many rural business owners and customers are still facing challenges when they pick up a phone, dial a number, and hope to hear a voice on the other end of the line. This bipartisan legislation will make additional progress in improving rural telecommunications service, and I want to thank Sen. Klobuchar for her leadership on this important issue."
"Many folks in rural Montana still can't always rely on something as basic as a landline to complete their calls, and that's totally unacceptable," Tester said. "This bill will hold out-of-state phone service providers accountable and it will improve service for families and small businesses across rural Montana. I'm proud that it's heading to the President's desk to become law."
"After years of work with my colleagues in Congress, I am happy to see this bill finally make it to the President's desk because Iowans living in rural America deserve the same communication access as those living in urban areas. Improving rural call completion rates and quality are important to ensuring the survival of small towns and granting Americans the choice to live and thrive in whatever community is best for them and their family, rural, urban, or anywhere in between," said Young. "I would like to thank Senators Klobuchar and Thune for their dedication to advancing this bill in the Senate and Congressman Welch for working with me in the House to pass this bill three times."
"Whether an emergency call or a business order, Vermonters should have confidence that their calls are completed without disruption," Welch said. "This bill addresses the epidemic of dropped calls in rural America and will ensure calls to emergency responders, businesses, customers, family and friends are reliably connected."
As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Klobuchar has been a leader in pushing to expand and improve communications infrastructure in rural areas. She is a co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus. In 2013, Klobuchar introduced and passed a resolution through the Senate Commerce Committee urging the FCC to take action to solve the problems with the completion of calls in rural areas. After the resolution was passed, the FCC took regulatory and enforcement actions to help curb the problem. In 2015, Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act, to increase wireless broadband access in rural communities by providing incentives for wireless carriers to lease unused spectrum to rural or smaller carriers. A provision based on the legislation was included in the MOBILE NOW Act that passed the Senate in August.
Thune is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which exercises jurisdiction over legislation related to telecommunications and technology policy.
Tester is a long-time advocate for rural call completion, teaming up with Klobuchar to introduce this bill back in 2015, and pushing the FCC to address this issue long before that. He cosponsored similar legislation in the 113th Congress and supported a 2013 bipartisan resolution urging the FCC to improve America's communication system to better keep rural America connected. Tester was recently appointed to the Senate Commerce Committee, where he is a member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, which has jurisdiction over issues of connectivity and call completion. This legislation is part of Tester's larger #ConnectMT initiative, which seeks to connect folks across Big Sky Country--both online and in person--by investing in Montana's roads, bridges, broadband, wifi, cellular and landline infrastructures.
Congressman Young has led the fight for this legislation in the House of Representatives, leading to the bill's passage in the House three times: November 2016, January 2017, and today. In May of 2015, during his first term in Congress, he introduced H.R. 2566, the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2016 with Congressman Welch. The bill passed the House on November 14, 2016 and was not taken up by the Senate. Early in 2017, Congressman Young and Congressman Welch reintroduced the legislation and it promptly passed the House on January 23, 2017. Throughout the process, he has worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress as well as stakeholders throughout Iowa and at the FCC.
As the founder and co-chair of the bipartisan House Rural Broadband Caucus, Rep. Welch has prioritized rural telecommunications challenges in his work on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He introduced the Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act to hold intermediary phone providers accountable for dropped calls and poor service after hearing from businesses across Vermont that their calls were not getting through. Rep. Welch is a House leader in pushing for closing the digital divide between rural and urban America to ensure rural residents are not left behind in this increasingly interconnected world.