Department of Commerce regulates landline phone services in Minnesota

Prompted by continuing service complaints from Minnesota consumers, the Department of Commerce last week filed a brief asking the Public Utilities Commission to order telephone service provider CenturyLink to submit plans to fix a pattern of service deficiencies and to upgrade processes for responding to outages.

PUC rules require CenturyLink and other landline phone providers to maintain adequate service levels. In its brief, Commerce emphasized that CenturyLink has reduced investment in equipment maintenance even as the company’s own data show service has deteriorated.

“Despite these obligations, the company has failed to maintain its plant and equipment consistent with adequate service by several measures, resulting in harm to CenturyLink’s customers, including many elderly and vulnerable customers who rely on dependable landline service,” Commerce said in the brief.

Commerce’s filing Friday follows its August recommendation that the PUC appoint an administrative law judge to convene hearings and solicit comments from CenturyLink customers. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Communications Workers of America, a union representing many CenturyLink workers, joined that recommendation.

Commerce regulates landline phone service providers in Minnesota and monitors compliance with PUC rules. Cell phone providers are not regulated in Minnesota.

“One of our most important missions is protecting the interests of Minnesota consumers,” said Greg Doyle, manager of Commerce’s telecom unit. “As our filing makes clear, CenturyLink not only is failing to do what’s necessary to provide good service for its customers but also failing to take meaningful action to fix the problems. Minnesotans deserve better service, but they’re not getting it.”

Earlier this month, Commerce filed a complaint with the PUC after CenturyLink failed to reimburse 150 Minneapolis customers after a two-week phone outage, as the commission’s rules require. Its filing last week said customer complaints have increased significantly since 2019 and that CenturyLink is violating a requirement to restore service within 24 hours after most outage reports. “The Department’s ongoing investigation into CenturyLink’s performance has exposed serious service quality deficiencies.”

Commerce asked the PUC to give CenturyLink 45 days to explain how it will improve its responses to outages and 90 days to submit a plan to fix maintenance concerns.