The Iowa Utilities Board today issued an order deregulating landline phone service quality in Iowa.
That means that local telephone exchanges will no longer be required to meet customer service and quality standards.
With the growing use of cellphones, deregulating landlines has become more common across the country. The Iowa order cites the widespread availability of effective competition for local service, including mobile wireless and cable.
The order states that most Iowans consider wireless service to be an adequate, and even preferable, alternative to landline local exchange service.
“Some 54 percent have cut the cord and have only wireless service, while only 4.6 percent are wireline only,” the order reads. “The presence of competition in most of the state will provide adequate incentive to provide good, competitive service in all parts of the state.”
The rates for local exchange services have been deregulated for a number of years, but regulation of customer service and quality standards continued.
Under the order, rules such as how long a company can take to restore an outage will no longer apply.
The Office of Consumer Advocate argued that market forces are not sufficient to ensure reliable voice communication service in all parts of the state.
“We are disappointed service quality standards will be eliminated,” said Director Mark Schuling.
Schuling says some areas of the state are more profitable to serve than others, and eliminating the standards may result in non-profitable areas “going downhill.”
“That impacts the health and welfare of Iowans,” Schuling said. “Local exchange remains an essential service.”
Schuling says he is particularly concerned for elderly and rural Iowans.
Under the order, the board will still hear customer complaints.
“We are really happy they kept jurisdiction over complaints,” Schuling said. “That makes companies more responsive.”
“What this means for customers is that when they are experiencing issues with their landline telephone service provider, they have a choice to change to another provider or file a complaint with the Board,” the board wrote in a news release.
Earlier this year the Board wrote in an order that Iowa law requires them to act when competition develops.
“When sufficient providers enter a market, such that effective competition exists, the Board is required to deregulate that market,” the order read.