The Federal Communications Commission announced it has reached a $40million settlement with wireless carrier T-Mobile USA over ‘false rings’ used in rural areas.
The FCC had been investigating whether T-Mobile violated the Communications Act by failing to correct ‘ongoing problems’ with call completion in rural areas and violating a FCC rule against using fake ringing sounds to make it seem like calls were going through, but nobody was answering.
The $40million settlement, which T-Mobile will pay into the US Treasury, ended that investigation, the FCC said Monday in a press release.
The FCC reached a $40million settlement with wireless carrier T-Mobile USA, which admitted that it failed to fix problems with call delivery in rural areas and added false ring tones to calls
In the accompanying Consent Decree, the FCC stated that as part of the settlement, T-Mobile admitted it did not fix known problems with call delivery in certain rural areas and also added false ring tones into calls.
The FCC said it was likely that the false ring tones were used on ‘hundreds of millions of calls’ per year and that T-Mobile admitted that it added those fake rings, or ‘Local Ring Back Tones,’ to calls that took more than ‘a certain amount of time to complete.’
The FCC explained that false ring tones are problematic because they create a ‘misleading impression that a caller’s service provider is not responsible if the call fails,’ and are particularly an issue when used on calls made in rural areas because they ‘are a symptom of the problems of impaired quality and completion of calls to rural areas.’
In a company statement obtained by CNN, T-Mobile said, ‘the ringtone oversight, which was corrected in January 2017, was unintentional’.
False ring tones are problematic when used on calls in rural areas because they ‘are a symptom of the problems of impaired quality and completion of calls to rural areas’ the FCC said
In addition to the civil penalty fine, T-Mobile agreed to implement a compliance plan.
The wireless carrier is not, however, required to give refunds to customers who were impacted by call completion or false ring tone issues, Ars Technica noted.
The FCC said that its Enforcement Bureau opened an investigation into T-Mobile’s practices after rural carrier and consumer complaints about the fact that T-Mobile callers couldn’t reach customers being served by three rural carriers in Wisconsin.
Although T-Mobile told the FCC that they had ‘resolved’ the problem, the FCC continued to get complaints about calls not connecting. The FCC then found a pattern of complaints that indicated that there were problems with call delivery in at least seven other rural areas.
‘It is a basic tenet of the nation’s phone system that calls be completed to the called party, without a reduction in the call quality—even when the calls pass through intermediate providers,’ FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in the FCC release.
‘The FCC is committed to ensuring that phone calls to all Americans, including rural Americans, go through.’