Two views on regulation/deregulation of landlines

With all of the discussion of the broadband budget, other telecom bills haven’t been coming up as much. But I did notice an editorial in the Brainerd Dispatch yesterday and today a letter in the Minneapolis Star Tribune from folks who were unhappy with the proposed regulation of landlines (SH736/HF1066)…

To that end, for 100 years, Minnesota has regulated the price and service quality of local telephone service. Minnesota law also requires phone companies to extend service to all Minnesotans, no matter where they live. These laws have served Minnesota well.

Unfortunately, the Legislature is considering bills — H.F. 1066 and S.F. 736 — to eliminate these price and service quality regulations. The bills would allow phone companies to charge higher rates with degraded service and access. Capitol insiders have dubbed the measure the “CenturyLink bill.” A similar deregulation measure in another state is called the “AT&T bill.” It speaks volumes that these bills are named after the phone companies that are pushing them. In one state, prices more than doubled after local telephone service was deregulated.

As representatives of AARP-Minnesota, the Minnesota AFL-CIO and the Minnesota attorney general’s office, we call on the Legislature to reject these bills.

Under the bills:

  •  Price protections would end. Telephone companies would be able to charge and raise prices as they desire.

  •  Quality would be unregulated. Service quality — such as how often people get a “busy” signal, how long the telephone company has to repair outages and how quickly operators answer calls for assistance — would no longer be regulated.

  •  Companies could drop or refuse to take customers, for any reason. This would be especially tough on rural residents, since it costs phone companies more to serve these customers.

I asked Brent Christensen from the Minnesota Telecom Alliance for his take on the issue…

HF 1066 does not de-regulate landline telephone service.  Once an incumbent provider proves to the MNPUC that they have real competitors (not just cell providers) then they can be designated the same their landline competitors.  To think rates will increase because of competition is just plain crazy.  All you have to do is look to the cellular industry to see that isn’t true.

The examples of the other states where rates have drastically increased were based on either measured service (which is different than residential service) or rates that weren’t in compliance with the FCC’s 2011 Transformation Order which established a residential rate floor which is now at $20.65/month.

This bill also doesn’t apply to anyone who gets their service from a cable provider, cellular provider, or VoIP provider like Vonage or Magic Jack.

It raises a lot of questions on the difference in competition in rural versus urban areas, growing issues  of technology traversing a widening digital divide and the role of technology as a lifeline. We want landline access, we want e-911 because we also want to be able to use the latest technology in a disaster. The problem is cost. Who, how, where and when are we willing to pay for everyone to have access.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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