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Minnesota telecommunications statutes are lagging behind

There is lots of talk about how much money the state should spend on ensuring every Minnesotan has proper access to a broadband connection (“Minnesota governor’s budget allocates $100 million to expand rural high-speed broadband”). We are certain to have another robust debate at the Capitol this year around public funding for these initiatives. Yet, we must also modernize Minnesota’s communications laws to level the playing field between all the providers. While technology has advanced, Minnesota’s statutes governing communications date back to a law passed over 100 years ago.

Sen. Dan Sparks

Not too many years ago a telephone call was made using switches dedicated to a specific phone call. The Internet changed the way we make telephone calls. Communications companies now provide phone service using the same technology used for email and texting. So, instead of tying up an entire communication circuit for one phone call, voice signals are simply transmitted as data. This technology runs like any application over broadband networks.

Minnesota consumers are not well served when we have different regulations on services that know no borders. That is why we introduced legislation (SF895/HF776) to ensure that Minnesota consumers are protected while providing regulatory certainty for VoIP or IP-enabled service providers. This legislation would catch Minnesota up to the 33 states that have already modernized their state communications laws. Updating our laws benefits consumers, urban and rural areas equally and will help grow our economy.

Rep. Tim Sanders

The Governor’s Broadband Task Force’s recent set of policy recommendations included a call for reforming the regulatory framework underlying Minnesota’s telecommunications industry to reflect the modern communications era we live in today. Business and the Minnesota High Tech Association, among many others, also support the need for updating our state’s regulatory environment as would take place with the passage of our legislation.

Importantly, the changes as proposed in our legislation would not impact 911 emergency services as some claim or traditional landline voice service – nobody loses their phone line! Additionally, federal and state consumer protections are not changed.

We recognize the importance of fostering innovation for the growing Internet economy that surrounds us, a sector that sees leading businesses and start-ups of all sizes competing daily to revolutionize the world. Modernizing Minnesota’s telecommunications regulations will properly position us to compete and continue to grow these high tech businesses and jobs in the future.

The Brookings Institution recognized the Twin Cities for having one of the strongest economies in the world. Research from TechAmerica showed Minnesota as having over 120,000 tech jobs. These jobs are well compensated with an average salary of almost $80,000 annually.

It is time for Minnesota to join the majority of states, from California to Maine, and end the unnecessary regulations on traditional voice service providers.

Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, was elected in 2002; Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, was elected in 2008. 

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/29/2016 - 08:42 am.

    Absolutely no substance whatsoever – but read the bill,

    …which prohibits any regulation whatsoever by MN state agencies:

    “Subdivision 1. Regulation prohibited.
    Except as provided in this section, no state agency, including the commission and the Department of Commerce, or political subdivision of this state shall, by rule, order, or other means directly or indirectly regulate the entry, rates, terms, quality of service, availability, classification, or any other aspect of VoIP service or IP-enabled service.”

    Maybe the authors might have explained exactly HOW this is supposed to protect consumers when its plain text seems to say, “Hands off our industry !!”

    Instead, they tell us that myriad benefits will shower down on us if only we would forbid any regulation of this industry !!

    It’s like telling us things would be SO MUCH BETTER if we would ban any and all regulation of the insurance industry, or the securities industry.

    I smell a stinker here. While the authors vaguely assure us they propose only “reform” of some unspecified nature, they hide their aim of a sweeping prohibition of any regulation at all.

    So here’s a couple obvious questions: why avoid speaking to the substance ?? And WHO is really going to benefit ??

    • Submitted by Clete Erickson on 03/29/2016 - 02:03 pm.

      Great point

      I agree with you Mr. Titterud, taking away the right to regulate ViOP telephone communications is absurd. I think the concept of the bill is great but once you eliminate the ability to regulate all you are doing is setting the consumer up to get screwed. Thanks!

  2. Submitted by Josh William on 03/29/2016 - 02:58 pm.

    The House Bill

    “Subd. 4. Exemption.

    The following services delivered by IP-enabled service are
    not regulated under this chapter:

    (1) video services provided by a cable communications system, as defined in section
    238.02, subdivision 3; or

    (2) cable service, as defined in United States Code, title 47, section 522, clause (6); or

    (3) any other IP-enabled video service.”

    /////

    Now why would the House bill contain this language? Was this lobbied by the cable companies as a loop hole to avoid Net Neutrality?

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/29/2016 - 03:33 pm.

    Any good reader knew, before getting to anyone’s comments here, that there was absolutely no detail about this bill in this puff piece. It’s empty. And therefore suspicious and probably noxious for the Common Good. Why? Because a bill that says there can be no state regulation of a product or service, and adds that there can also be no LOCAL regulation or contract limitations (i.e., Minneapolis could o longer regulate Comcast or demand the distribution of locally-produced TV to Minneapolis cable subscribers) is outrageous.

    Tell your state representative to flag this bill, and vote against!

    Does anyone see a national pattern here, of state legislatures passing laws that limit urban centers’ right to regulate businesses within local jurisdictions? Urban centers like the seven-county Twin Cities area are pressing for minimum wage increases and other labor-benefiting ordinances, or environmental regulations, or limiting businesses’ ability to screw the consumer when the state won’t help.

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