I love hot weather – but maybe as a Minnesotan I’m not ready for 90 degrees in mid-September because things are making me crabby. For example the fact that Verizon is cutting off 20,000 rural cell customers in states like Maine, Michigan, North Dakota and Montana because they spend too much time roaming. The Rural Blog gives a quick description of the situation…
Verizon is disconnecting wireless service to rural users in several states, including Maine and Montana, saying they use too much data to make service profitable. The issue centers on Verizon’s LTE in Rural America program, which Verizon say has brought coverage to more nearly 2.4 million people since its inception in 2010. Verizon partners with 21 small rural carriers around the country and pays them when its customers end up roaming off Verizon’s cell network and onto the rural carriers’ network. The affected customers have Verizon’s “unlimited” data plan, but don’t live in Verizon’s native service area. Verizon may be losing money on these perpetually roaming customers, Jon Brodkin reported for Ars Technica in June, when Verizon first began cutting off rural customers.
As a private company, Verizon can do what it wants. (Although Stop the Cap outlines the specifics of the services procured and now cut off in some of the states listed. Part of the frustration is that local partners – sometimes public partners – built infrastructure to entice Verizon to their areas and now Verizon is walking away.)
But this is a reminder that we need to reconsider broadband and telephone (cell or landline) standing as utilities!
There has been a push to deregulate VoIP in Minnesota – or more specifically recognize that all telephone calls are quickly transferred to IP (Internet Protocol) so in practice it’s a push to deregulate POTS (plain old telephone service). The push is an attempt to level the playing field because traditional phone companies are held to a pretty stringent standard and are expected to compete with wireless providers, who are not. No doubt, it isn’t fair.
But I think seeing this action from Verizon indicates that lowering the bar leaves consumers unprotected. Maybe the answer is that we level the playing field on higher ground!
Talking about the attempt to deregulate phone service (in April 2017) Representative Sheldon Johnson and Senator Simonson said the following…
First, under the bill there will no longer be a right to have phone service. It is expensive and unprofitable to serve rural customers and maintain infrastructure. Companies will invest their money in densely populated, more profitable urban areas and disinvest in maintenance of the network in rural, more expensive-to-serve, less profitable areas. Rural consumers will experience decreasing service quality and more outages as the system is allowed to deteriorate and resources are moved elsewhere.
Second, existing protections against charging exorbitant connection or reconnection charges would be gone. If the bill becomes law, phone companies can shut you off for no reason even if you always pay their bill on time or without notice if you are late. Companies can shut off customers simply because they are too expensive to serve and not sufficiently profitable. Who are these customers? They are older Minnesotans, people with disabilities, people on fixed incomes, and people who live in Greater Minnesota.
Third, AT&T and Comcast tell legislators that deregulation will produce more competition, lower prices, better service, more jobs, and broadband for everyone. Beware of would-be deregulated telecommunications companies bearing “gifts.”
Their second point sounds prophetic now – if you add “cell” to “phone companies”. Communication (broadband and phone) is a lifeline. Perhaps more policymakers need to look at it from that lens.