CenturyLink asks PUC to relax landline repair rules

Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports…

Telecommunications company CenturyLink has asked Minnesota utility regulators to ease a decades-old rule that requires it to give priority for repairs to landline customers, saying the requirement is obsolete in an era dominated by broadband communications.

CenturyLink, a unit of Lumen Technologies, is the largest provider of copper landline phone service in Minnesota and one of the few companies still serving that segment. It petitioned the state’s independent Public Utilities Commission this week to bring its rules up to date, saying customer choices and demands have changed dramatically since the rules were drafted, before the first handheld cellphone appeared on the U.S. market in the 1980s.

Some details on the rule…

The rules set a goal that landline outages should be restored within 24 hours of being reported. CenturyLink says that forces it to spend a disproportionate amount of technician time on landline repairs compared with broadband repairs. And the rules don’t apply to CenturyLink competitors that just provide wireless, internet-based and other broadband communications, which the PUC generally doesn’t regulate.

They have tried to ease these rules in the past…

The PUC considered a similar CenturyLink request in 2014 but held off amid concerns from AARP and the state Department of Commerce about service quality and affordability. CenturyLink says in its new petition that the move by consumers away from copper landlines has only accelerated since then. The company says the most recent federal data show that only 4.4% of Minnesota households now rely solely on landlines for voice service.

If passed, it would help all landline providers…

The rule change CenturyLink seeks would also apply to Frontier Communications and other smaller landline providers in Minnesota, he said.

The request brings up a few topics – first, broadband providers are regulated differently and that’s always been a challenge to the providers and then passed onto the customers. But then they have also received public funding differently. It would be interesting to see an matrix comparing regulation and government inventing in telephone, cable, wireless and other broadband providers.

Also it would be interesting to get some scenarios of who still has a landline. When I’ve asked the most popular answer is – my parents (or grandparents). And that is why the AARP was involved with the decision in 2014. Forbes has an interesting article in January 2020 from a landline user. Some of his reasons were voice clarity, comfort, cost and safety. Safety is the research I remember being used most in 2014, here’s what Forbes said…

A landline phone might be the only phone that is accessible and functional when an emergency strikes. And if you are awoken by an intruder, you probably don’t want to yell “Could you bring me my mobile phone — it’s charging on the kitchen counter?”

Also cell coverage is an issue. In my old house in St Paul, there were certain rooms where my cell phone didn’t work – which may have been partially attributable to thick walls but it didn’t always work in the front yard either. And walking through the same neighborhood as often as I do, I can tell you there are dead zones. Again that’s in St Paul. Driving in rural area I’ve driven through miles of dead zones. Either would feel scary if you were making a life saving call – and that is what the landline phone is designed to do.

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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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