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Johnson's rural calls bill passes committee

U.S. Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., announced Wednesday that their resolution calling for action to improve rural communications passed the Senate Commerce Committee, paving the way for a vote in the full Senate.

The resolution underscores the need to resolve rural call completion problems and crack down on carriers that discriminate against rural customers.

"The pervasive call completion problem is very troubling, especially in a rural state like South Dakota," Johnson said in a written statement. "The problem is not just frustrating for those who cannot connect with family and friends, but it also presents a serious public safety concern."

Johnson has worked to raise awareness about the seriousness of the call completion problems in rural America and has spearheaded a coalition of senators committed to getting the issues addressed. Last week, Johnson, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was successful in getting language included in the report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2014 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill that directs the Federal Communications Commission to take immediate action to ensure that all providers fulfill their obligation to properly route and complete calls and to submit a report to the committee regarding the steps the agency is taking to resolve call completion problems.

In December 2012, Johnson and 35 other senators sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that urged the agency to closely monitor the practice of least cost routing and expedite its investigation by requiring the submission of network performance data that includes a detailed analysis of call completion rates. This helped lead to the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposed new ways to strengthen the FCC's investigation of providers that are failing to properly complete long distance telephone calls to rural areas.

Earlier this year, the FCC reached its first call completion settlement with phone carrier Level 3 Communications that will require the company to meet call completion standards, provide extensive records to assist FCC enforcement, and make a $975,000 voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury.