MN regulators refuse CenturyLink’s request to drop landline service quality rules

Earlier this month, I wrote about the MN Dep of Commerce and Attorney General’s Office calling out CenturyLink for landline customer service. Today we have a little follow up; Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Minnesota utility regulators Thursday unanimously rejected CenturyLink’s petition to abandon or modify key landline service rules, saying it would hurt consumers who depend on hard-wired telephones.

CenturyLink, Minnesota’s largest landline phone provider, petitioned the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to jettison two long-standing regulations covering customer service response times.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and Department of Commerce both recommended against the change and in a different report said the phone company was violating the regulations.

Here’s part of the explanation…

[PUC] Commissioner Valerie Means said that landline service is still relevant, particularly to elderly, rural and lower-income customers. “There are customers whose sole service is landline, and those customers deserve quality of service [protections].”

Means said she agreed with the Commerce and Attorney General’s offices that the request should be denied. Both agencies represent the public interest before the commission.

But quality of customer service was called out too…

In June, CenturyLink asked the PUC to eliminate or modify the “interruptions of service” rule, which states that landline providers should take care of 95% of out-of-service phone complaints within 24 hours after they’re reported.

The company also wanted the PUC to rescind or change its “answering time” rule, which says landline providers need to answer 90% of their customer service phone calls within 20 seconds.

There are other voices speaking out too in support of the decision…

Jeff Lachler, a staff representative for the union representing 700 CenturyLink workers, said the phone company’s “problem is entirely self-made.… The company could decrease broadband repair times by hiring more technicians.”

In a filing with the PUC, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said that CenturyLink has reduced its Minnesota workforce by 52% over the last four years.

Ian Dobson, an assistant Minnesota attorney general, told the PUC that “CenturyLink has the money to dedicate to broadband services if it chooses to do so. … We shouldn’t cut off or weaken the protections for those who remain [with landline].”

And in support of CenturyLink…

Frontier Communications, Minnesota’s second-largest landline phone provider with about 90,000 customers, has supported CenturyLink’s petition to abandon or modify the two service quality rules. A Frontier representative spoke in favor of it at Thursday’s meeting.

Norwalk, Conn.-based Frontier has had its own service quality issues with Minnesota consumers and regulators in recent years. Investigations by the Commerce Department and the attorney general found a broad array of alleged violations at Frontier, leading to legal settlements with both in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

PUC Commissioner John Tuma on Thursday noted the absence of other Minnesota telecom providers in support of CenturyLink’s request — particularly the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, a trade group representing 70 companies.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN, Policy, Vendors 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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