For more than a century, phone service in Minnesota has been regulated by the Public Utilities Commission. But as many in the state transition to internet-based phone services, some lawmakers want to change that.
House File 1665 would eliminate many of the basic consumer protections around what is known as Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP. That includes service quality rules, protections against discriminatory pricing for rural customers, and requirements to notify customers before service is disconnected.
Mary Jo George, associate state director for advocacy with AARP Minnesota, said these are especially important for older customers for whom the phone line can quite literally be a lifeline.
“Telephone communication is a basic necessity allowing older Minnesotans to maintain social contact, preserve health and safety, and gain assistance in an emergency,” George said.
Some unaware they have internet-based phone service
Proponents of the bill argue that traditional phone service would still be protected under the legislation, but George said it’s important to note that many people may not even be aware that they have internet-based phone service.
State Rep. Sheldon Johnson of St. Paul opposes the bill because, he said, he believes rules should be based on the service provided, not on the technology behind it.
“They don’t know if it’s this new internet protocol, or the old analog style of communication – it doesn’t make any difference,” Johnson said. “And my opinion is it shouldn’t make any difference with respect to the protections we have in place.”
Some have argued that regulatory changes are necessary to help spread broadband internet service across greater Minnesota. However, consumer advocates believe the state’s communications infrastructure can be expanded without rolling back customer protections and safeguards.