I have been trying to keep up with what’s happening with the Legislature. So last night I listened to the Overview and Update from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission – a recording from a meeting held earlier in the day. (You can listen online.) I thought I’d share notes. Depending on your background, it’s interesting to hear about what the PUC does, about how that has changed, the challenges and it’s always interesting to hear the questions from the Legislators. Below are my notes from the meeting – I only took notes related to telecom and broadband…
(starts about minute 9-13) Telecom regulation has changed. Telecom Act of 1996 moved towards less regulation. That approach has been followed with most states. Mostly we insure competitive markets in Minnesota and make sure services are highest quality possible.
The authority is focused on local landline companies such as CenturyLink and smaller independent companies. Most have adopted AFORs that allows for greater pricing flexibility in trade for some restrictions. CLECs and IECs operate in MN. We don’t regulate cellular, satellite, paging, public phones, phones in hotels, ISPs, cable, VoIP.
What are telecom and cable companies treated differently?
It’s a policy choice that state’s make. Some states do have PUC regulate both. It really has to do with how the industry has evolved and technology has changed. Cable came from entertainment and services that weren’t traditionally regulated – but the transmission and content have merged.
Question on Telecom Act of 1996?
Big change was federal Act of 1996. It moved telecom away from tradition regulation to greater reliance on market. There were concerns on dominant, incumbent companies and allowing CLECs to function. We’re still dealing with costs. Most states had their own policy that followed suit. It provides flexibility such as AFOR – and re-categorization of services to increase competition. The technology had changes so there was greater opportunity. The monopoly model no longer worked as well – other could provide service in a cost effective way.
Challenges (starts around min 30)–
Telecom medium doesn’t matter to end customer. We are concerned with inter-relationship of systems. In a competitive market – sometimes the relationship gets strained when providers do not want to adhere to payment schemes. Certain calls are more expensive. We want to make sure there is fair pricing and that consumers can place calls in non-discriminatory fashion. Dropped calls are a concern. Interconnection is a concern – all of the systems must interconnect. We need a mechanism to make sure that happens. We want consumers to have choice and affordability.
In Minnesota telephone has been regulated since 1915. We are seeing landline use drop off – yet there is an infrastructure investment there that needs to be maintained for the system to work. There are public safety concerns. Landlines are reliable even in storms. How do we maintain that? We make evidence-based decisions. Who will represent all technologies and consumers?
We also focus on growing demand for broadband. People need high speed reliable broadband across the state.
There was a decision when cable companies merged content and transport. We look at how this has an impact on consumers.
Is it the role of the PUC to insure Universal Access throughout the state?
It is part of our role. We administer a program that support low incomes users and there’s a program that supports access to broadband for low income households.
Do you have concerns with deregulation and balance of universal service?
Yes. It’s a challenge to landline companies and the requirement to being access of last resort.
Who (if not the PUC) is regulating broadband (deployment and adoption)?
There is no regulation per se. The provision is made my private investment. The recent announcement of a public-private initiative is an attempt to move things along in that regard.
What percentage of PUC work is telecom focused?
The majority of filings we get our telecom related. Time spent on cases is mostly energy. We have made some changes. Telecom is about 30 percent of time spent at PUC.
Even when I get a wireless call – that call will go through wires. We need to recognize that the landlines support phone system – wired and wireless. Folks who pay subsidies to support wires get annoyed but it is essential infrastructure and needs to be maintained. At this point we don’t have good answers. We can’t let the copper wires get tossed out. The federal government has decided that the internet is not communication and subject to state regulation.
In rural areas the coops are being asked to foot these bills. We need to preserve coops in Greater Minnesota.