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.
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.
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.
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