Lobbyists disagree whether timing right for Iowa VoIP deregulation

James Q. Lynch
Published: February 6 2014 | 12:53 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:17 am in

Legislation pre-empting the state from regulating Voice over Internet Protocol – VoIP – would open the door for large investment in new technology and services consumers are demanding, lobbyists for telecommunications companies told Iowa lawmakers Thursday.

On the other hand, lobbyists for state government agencies and older Iowans said the time is not right – if the legislation is necessary at all.

That led Rep. Rob Taylor, R-West Des Moines, chairman of a subcommittee on House Study Bill 590 to conclude there’s more work to do on the bill before it goes to the full Commerce Committee.

He plans to have more conversations with the interested parties and another subcommittee meeting “to see if this bill is mold-able.”

It’s already in fine form, according to lobbyists for major telecommunications carriers represented at the 45-minute hearing.

If Iowa doesn’t join more than two dozen other states in deregulating VoIP, it will make it difficult for those companies to invest in Iowa, according to Michael Sadler, who represented Century Link. The company that serves 37 states is investing billions in VoIP, but if Iowa creates its own regulatory environment it would be “problematic” to invest here, he said.

Verizon is looking for “regulatory certainty,” added Michael McDermott. Other states have chosen to deregulate VoIP because they recognize IP-enabled services can play a critical role in expanding the “broadband ecosystem” and that it’s an “undisputed economic engine.”

Representatives of the Iowa Utilities Board and the Attorney General’s Office warned about moving too soon and eliminating the consumer protections those agencies provide Iowans.

Kerri Johannsen of the IUB said the agency prefers lawmakers wait until data from tests from FCC tests in Iowa on the transition to an all-Internet Protocol network is available before adopting deregulation legislation.

Brian Johnson of US Cellular and Pat Fucik of Sprint urged the lawmakers to follow the IUB advice. They expressed concern with the lack of protection for the interconnections their companies need with AT&T and other companies that carry many of their calls. If HSB 590 is approved, they warned, interconnections between carriers would become more difficult and, possibly, much more expensive.

Bill Brauch of the Attorney General’s Office said that unless HSB 590 is amended to preserve the attorney general’s authority to enforce the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act, the office will oppose the bill.

“Why take away the good authority of the IUB to investigate problems,” added Anthony Carroll of AARP. “The IUB and Attorney General’s Office are both needed.”

The three subcommittee members agreed they need more information before signing off on HSB 590.

“I’m not an expert on VoIP,” Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, said, “but I’m growing close.”

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