MN House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Broadband Industry Intro: VoIP, 5G,growth and frustration

Yesterday industry folks had an opportunity to provide updates to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. Speakers included representative from Minnesota Cable Communications Association, Minnesota Telecom Alliance and AT&T  Wireless. The presentations were similar to those given (by the same folks) to the Senate last week. The speakers were kind enough to share those with me last week – you can see them here. All three groups mentioned a desire to get fiber closer to the home/premise.

I tried something new for this meeting – I used Facebook Live to livestream the event. Here’s the archive:

I also took notes, which I’ll include below. It seems like there were more questions yesterday. Several Representatives were concerned about changing regulation for phone calls (landline versus VoIP) at the expense of consumer protection. One of the big concerns seems to be that VoIP requires power – so when the power goes out, the VoIP phone doesn’t work. (They have some power generators, but it’s a risk.) The push back is that VoIP is much more cost effective for the provider, especially since many customers are “cutting the cord” and going with cell phone options.

With wireless, there were questions about timeline for 5G and distance limitations. The standards for 5G have not been set yet. But AT&T wants to hit the ground running so they are currently working on small cell deployment. (Small cells make 5G work – they also improve 4G access.) Increased small cell deployment should help with distance issues – because there are distance limitations on 5G, which does make it a better solution for urban markets. Representation Hoppe remarked that they can’t legislate faster than technology can change.

While this committee doesn’t deal with the Broadband Funds, the State broadband grants did come up. One Representative had a customer in CenturyLink territory who was frustrated with his service. Apparently he has 1.5 Mbps (so I’m guessing DSL) and he runs a business. He wondered why/how a community upgrade could be so tied to a provider’s decision to upgrade or not. Panelists remarked that the grant had been a good opportunity for partnerships between provider, community and the State. But clearly that 3-legged stool only stands when all three legs are working together.

Anna Boroff MN Cable Communications Association

serve a range of members. Have 13 member board Our members provide the following services:

  • Broadband.
  • Voice – VoIP – phone service delivered over broadband
  • Video

Planning a Broadband Conference on Feb 23 to talk about funding and regulation and show off fun technology.

Bill Jensen from Mediacom from Wasceca & Lakeville

Comcast is largest cable provider in MN, then Charter then Mediacom.

We offer telephony products (along with other services not as pertinent to this committee). We have done so since 2000-2001. We have historically been copper/coaxial but we have been deploying more fiber closer to the consumer. HFC, FTTP, Fiber to the Fiber – are all pushing fiber to the end user.

Modernization of telecom – there are 35 states that have modernize telecom laws. IN Minnesota we haven’t seen major reform in 100 years. We think reform will help everyone.

VoIP uses our cables to offer services to our customers – no difference for the most part to POTS. And those numbers are portable  if you move you can take your number.


Q: We see a push for deregulation for VoIP – but I’m worried about the protections customers have seen for 100 years. Why can you not comply with those protections?
A: We comply with many. We provide 911 service. We are part of the directory system. Number s are portable. BUT our networks need AC power so if there’s a power outage we back up with power supplies but the issue is standby batter power. Most powers will only last 3-4 hours.

Q: So if you can’t provide service – people cannot make 911 calls.
A: That’s true. Most outages are less than an hour. There are outages not due to power – like fiber cut or car hitting pole.

Q: We have mandated for landlines is so they have access to emergency services. We you want an exceptions – would you be willing to compensate due to loss of service?
A: Willing to talk about it – but that’s a large issue.

Q: Do you have liability in other states?
A: Yes – in California (I think).

Q: Why does someone using VoIP be relived of consumer protections and POTS is not?
A: We are not advocating relief. It’s a different technology than POTS, which is much lower voltage. Our service can be more cost effective than traditional wire-based services.

Q: That doesn’t provide much assurance. Irrespective of the way people make calls, I don’t know what we would lower consumer protections.

Q: What about broadband grants? 42 grants were offered – did major telecom apply for any grants? I have a constituent in  Carlos Township – served by CenturyLInk, They don’t want to speed up their service. He has no coop.
A: Folks from CenturyLink will testify next – maybe they can answer that.
We had about 6 cable companies awarded grants. We got $650,000 for three projects at Mediacom. Two areas were unserved; one was underserved (Medina).
The grant program, which allows operator to work with community, has thre epeople DEED (State), communications provider, and community. We find that when we extend services – it works best when we have three to tango. We have difficulty where there is lower population density – like Medina where they have large lots and large homes. So the community has invested $100,000.

Q: (Kresha) So the protections set up 100 years ago was technology closer to Dr Graham than fiber?
A: Fiber

Q (Kresha) So wouldn’t it make sense to change that regulation?
A: Yes

Brent Christenson at MTA

Trade association representing 45 broadband providers serving rural areas ranging from CenturyLInk to one who serves 250 people.

We aren’t cell providers. We aren’t VoIP providers.

Members started out as traditional providers. They have gone from copper to fiber and our goal is to get fiber closer to the homes. The networks are IP-based. Some members have FTTH; some have FTTN – reusing existing copper to homes. No one buries copper cable now.

Some consumers are hard to get to – so some providers use fixed wireless.

$240 million investment in expenditures in 2015 ($251 million in 2016)

We are regulated. I have three numbers – home phone, cell phone, and Skype Each service is regulated differently and by different agencies. Skype has no regulation. Telecom is the only competitive utility. We are regulated like a utility.

Back in the day the internet went over phone lines – now phone goes out over broadband lines.

The customer needs more and more bandwidth. As that happens POTS becomes undeliverable.


Q: (Kresha) How many senior citizen phone line shave you removed because they use cell
A: I can look into it – many have gone to cell access. We used to have to make them take the phone to access broadband. (Pre-USF changes).

Q: I thought that senior citizens only used VoIP! Really they get cell phones?!
A: Senior citizens have access to cell phones.

Q: Most wireless carriers use wires, don’t they?
A: We put the wire in wireless. Between the tower and your handset is the only wireless part of the call journey.

Q: Is a hard wired system still necessary?
A: Yes – the question is how they get it and where from

Q: Back to my citizen in CenturyLink area – he has 1.5 Mbps. He wondered about state grants and he found it frustrating that the decision to apply for grants rested on the incumbent.
A: We’re working with OBD. My members are well served by the grants. BUT the grant isn’t happening in a vacuum. CAF money is coming into the state – there could be plans to build in that area – maybe that’s why CenturyLink didn’t.

Beginning in 2017 there’s a CAF-type fund for smaller providers. It’s apiece of the puzzle. Some good partnerships have emerged.

Paul Weirtz AT&T

The future of AT&T – the world will continue to go wireless. 47 percent of US homes use cell phones only. Demand for wireless broadband has exploded. AARP report says use of smartphone is growing – more than half of adults over 50 have a smartphone. Wireless is driving out economy.

We are excited about 5G – we expect speeds in gigabits per second. Also there will be lower latency.

Data on mobile 2000+ percent.

The path to 5G rests with fixed and mobile networks.

5G will open new economies. Communities that support 5G will see positive economic impacts.

AT&T is investing in small cells and carrier aggregation. Small cells will be essential to 5G. They can deployed in many places. We are doing this to prepare for 5G.

Last fall we started business testing of mmWave – we are trailing mmWave in apartment buildings in Minneapolis.

We are looking into Project AirGig.

AT&T Network investments in 272 communities in 2016.


Q: Research seems to say that 5G is still 5-6 years away.
A: Right. Standards are still not developed but we are in a race to be first. I don’t know that we’ll wait 5-6 years.

Q: Are there spectrum issues that need to be resolved. Also it seems like distance and obstructions are issues for 5G.
A: Right. Out next step is to be prepared. Small cells deployment is our next step right now. We are working on densification of network. We don’t need big towers we need small cells to be prepared.

Q: So the small cells are serving 4G now?
A: Yes. And it ushers in 5G.

We can’t legislate faster than technology can change. “ Hoppe

This entry was posted in Cable, Conferences, MN, Vendors, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

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

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