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Call Kurtis Investigates: The Phone Calls You Don't Know You're Not Getting

COPPEROPOLIS (CBS13) -- Running his own shipping business, Ed Neiman gets a lot of calls during the day. But after a while, he's realized something.

When someone calls him, his phone doesn't always ring.

"I don't even think people understand that they are having this problem," he said. "It just isn't ringing."

Call Kurtis has learned it's something called "least cost call routing," and it's routing calls away from recipients -- especially those in rural areas.

Neiman's phone company, Calaveras Telephone Co. (CalTel), admits hundreds of customers have had similar complaints -- but it's not their fault.

CalTel blames Internet-based phone services (commonly referred to as VOIP) some callers are using to call into Calaveras county.

"They are offering you a discounted product," said Lou Cherniss, CalTel's chief financial officer.

The FCC admits this type of issue, known as "least cost call routing," is affecting rural residents nationally.

The problem is simple: When lower-cost VOIP services try to find the cheapest way to route a call into a rural area, they sometimes drop the call instead, or the call gets caught in a loop and never connects to the recipient.

It's often because telephone lines in more remote areas like Calaveras county are much more expensive to use and maintain, and the VOIP companies find it too expensive to send the call through.

"Essentially, they'll route the calls so they drop," Cherniss said.

He admitted CalTel's fees to outside companies to route calls into his service area are higher. but he says his company actually loses money with all of its overhead.

So why doesn't the FCC -- which oversees telephone communication in the United States -- get involved?

It said it can't, because it doesn't oversee Internet-based phone companies -- only the traditional ones.

With nowhere to turn, Neiman wants Congress to do something so rural areas aren't cut off.

"Who knows how big a problem it is?" he said.

The California Public Utilities Commission told CBS13 it is looking into this too, although, like the FCC, it claims it cannot oversee any Internet-based communications.

The FCC has released an information page on least cost call routing, available here.

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