The Minnesota PUC Pushes to Regulate Fixed VoIP Services

Regulation Watch

The Minnesota PUC Pushes to Regulate Fixed VoIP Services

Over the past several months the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has been engaged in a dispute with certain cable service providers over the MPUC’s jurisdiction over “fixed” VoIP services (meaning that customers only receive service in one location).

The issue stems from a 2014 Minnesota Department of Commerce investigation and complaint with the MPUC over the transfer of certain VoIP service customers from a certificated service provider to a non-certificated affiliate. In May 2015, the MPUC found that a cable company’s interconnected VoIP service met the state’s statutory definition of a “telecommunications service” subject to the MPUC’s authority. It directed the company to submit a plan detailing how it would comply with commission telecommunications regulations. The company was also required to submit a draft subscriber notice advising subscribers that the company was providing a regulated telephone service and outlining the customer protections provided by law.

After unsuccessfully seeking reconsideration of the order with the MPUC, the company filed a petition with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, asking the court to block the MPUC from regulating its VoIP service as a telecommunications service. It claimed that the MPUC’s order violates the Communications Act as well as federal precedent preventing states from adopting telecommunications regulations on interstate “information services.” Discovery is expected to last until May 2016; a bench trial is scheduled for October 2016.

More than 10 years ago, the MPUC fought a similar case, seeking to regulate certain “nomadic” interstate VoIP services, and was rebuffed by the FCC (News - Alert) and federal courts on various grounds.  The current case will be an important one in determining the jurisdictional reach of the MPUC  and other state utility commissions over “fixed” VoIP services.  

William B. Wilhelm (News - Alert) is a partner and Jeffrey R. Strenkowski is counsel at the global law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP (www.morganlewis.com). 




Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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