CenturyLink seeks to ease Minnesota landline repair rules
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Telecommunications company CenturyLink has asked Minnesota utility regulators to ease a decades-old rule that requires it to give priority for repairs to landline customers, saying the requirement is obsolete in an era dominated by broadband communications.
CenturyLink, a unit of Lumen Technologies, is the largest provider of copper landline phone service in Minnesota and one of the few companies still serving that segment. It petitioned the state’s independent Public Utilities Commission this week to bring its rules up to date, saying customer choices and demands have changed dramatically since the rules were drafted, before the first handheld cellphone appeared on the U.S. market in the 1980s.
“Prioritizing landline voice service made sense in 1983,” the company wrote in its petition Monday. “Today, it hampers deployment of broadband to Minnesota, harms broadband customers and harms the public interest. It is time for a change.”
The rules set a goal that landline outages should be restored within 24 hours of being reported. CenturyLink says that forces it to spend a disproportionate amount of technician time on landline repairs compared with broadband repairs. And the rules don’t apply to CenturyLink competitors that just provide wireless, internet-based and other broadband communications, which the PUC generally doesn’t regulate.
That puts CenturyLink at a competitive disadvantage, Brian Fanciulli, the company’s senior director of operations for Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, said in an interview Wednesday. Competitors that now have the lion’s share of voice customers in Minnesota don’t have to adhere to those restrictions, he said, adding that CenturyLink doesn’t face similar restrictions in neighboring states but service response times there are similar.
The PUC considered a similar CenturyLink request in 2014 but held off amid concerns from AARP and the state Department of Commerce about service quality and affordability. CenturyLink says in its new petition that the move by consumers away from copper landlines has only accelerated since then. The company says the most recent federal data show that only 4.4% of Minnesota households now rely solely on landlines for voice service.
Fanciulli said CenturyLink’s traditional voice landlines in Minnesota have fallen from 2.25 million in 2001 to around 334,000 today, about 15% of the lines it once served, as customers turned to other providers and newer, often cheaper technologies.
Commerce Department and AARP officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday on CenturyLink’s newest effort.
CenturyLink intends to continue to provide top quality service to its landline customers, Fanciuilli said, but removing the regulations would give the company more flexibility to address customer preferences “on a level playing field with competitors in what is now a hypercompetitive environment.”
The rule change CenturyLink seeks would also apply to Frontier Communications and other smaller landline providers in Minnesota, he said.