U.S. Sen. Al Franken won a battle in the ongoing fight to end the problem of dropped calls that families and businesses in rural Minnesota routinely experience.

Following an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Level 3 Communications LLC, a telecommunications company, has agreed to meet rigorous, verifiable call completion standards and to provide extensive records that will assist FCC enforcement of rules protecting against failed calls to rural areas.

"Families and businesses in rural Minnesota have the same right to high-quality, reliable telephone service as everyone else," said Sen. Franken.

At Senate Commerce Committee hearing last week, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar pressed FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to crack down on phone carriers that refuse to connect rural phone calls.

The FCC did take enforcement action, phone carrier Level 3 Communications agreed to several benchmarks, as well as to make a $975,000 voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury.

"Call completion problems aren't just a nuisance for families trying to stay connected; they hurt small businesses that need reliable phone service to stay competitive," Klobuchar said.

"This settlement will send a message to phone carriers that this harmful practice will not be tolerated, and I will continue to work with Chairman Genachowski to strengthen rural phone service."

In December, Sen. Franken sent a letter urging the FCC to investigate providers who have significantly higher failure rates for rural customers.

He requested that the FCC look into providers who may use "least cost routing services" - which cut provider costs, but may impact service - and to enforce existing rules that aim to improve service to rural customers.

In its consent decree with the Enforcement Bureau, Level 3 has agreed to:

• Complete long-distance calls to incumbent local exchange carriers in rural areas at a rate within 5 percent of that in non-rural areas over a two-year period.

• Report compliance with the 5 percent benchmark every quarter, beginning in January 2014.

• Pay an additional $1 million voluntary contribution if it misses the 5 percent benchmark in any quarter.

• Develop scorecards for intermediate providers that Level 3 uses to route calls, assessing their performance in the areas of post-dial delay in connecting calls, network failure and call completion rates.

• Identify problematic routes to intermediate providers monthly.

• Cease using poorly performing intermediate providers.

• Assist the Enforcement Bureau in other investigations by providing data concerning the performance of intermediate providers.