For generations, Minnesota’s telecom companies have been providing reliable and affordable landline services, even in the most remote parts of the state. That’s a Minnesota staple that simply will not change, no matter what you might have read elsewhere.

Currently, there’s a simple, bipartisan bill being considered at the State Capitol that would create a path for incumbent landline telephone companies to be regulated like their competitors. Any service changes proposed by the telecom companies would be subject to review and approval by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. It would mean that the same rules apply to all commission-regulated landline providers.

Somehow, this has been misrepresented as a threat to landline service in Greater Minnesota (“Don’t deregulate landline service,” April 29). Simply put, it is not. The Public Utilities Commission will continue to have oversight on things such as rates, service quality and discontinuance of service, to name a few.

The state’s telecom companies range from well-known large-scale providers that serve large swaths of Minnesota to small, family-owned and cooperative providers that serve many towns in the state’s rural areas. Unlike a century ago, telecom is no longer a monopoly utility, which creates a need for this legislation — to bring some equity to the regulation these companies face.

CTC, based in central Minnesota, and Enventis, based in Mankato, are great examples of the challenge companies face. They are regulated one way in their traditional, incumbent serving areas, and in a different way in service areas where they compete against an incumbent provider. This bill would mean the state could regulate them the same way in all the areas.

Cellular services are very good throughout much of Minnesota, but there are areas where reception is spotty or unavailable. This underscores the need for continued reliable landline service throughout the state, which will not change under the terms of this legislation. State and federal laws require telephone companies to serve all of the customers in their serving areas. Nothing in this bill could or would change that requirement. All consumer protections currently in place would stay in place.

The stories of massive rate hikes in other states stem not from deregulation but from the Federal Communications Commission’s 2011 Transformation Order, which forced telephone companies to raise their rates to a national “rate floor,” which is currently $20.65. Without getting overly detailed, there were some companies in selected states that had very low rates, and there had to be a proportional increase to get to the national “rate floor.”

Overall, the fear-mongering about losing landline service is misplaced, and a big deal is being made out of a relatively minor piece of legislation that has bipartisan support from urban and rural legislators. To ensure that Minnesota’s generations-old practice of providing reliable phone service to even the most remote parts of the state continues, our telecom companies need to be able to survive and thrive in this new, more-competitive world.

The legislation is a modest proposal to accomplish those goals. Currently, 36 other states, including Wisconsin and Iowa, have gone much further in leveling the regulatory landscapes for telephone companies, and the sky hasn’t fallen in those states. The overheated rhetoric on this issue is as unfortunate as it is misplaced.

 

Brent Christensen is president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance. He lives in Madelia, Minn.