SDN Blog

Legislators likely to face big issues, including Internet regulation

Posted on Tuesday, December 29, 2015

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South Dakota Legislature to tackle telecommunications issues

Telecommunications issues could be among the important ones South Dakota lawmakers face during the 2016 Legislature.

The 91st session of the South Dakota Legislature begins at noon on Jan. 12 in Pierre and lasts 38 working days. March 29 is the final day on the schedule.

“It’s probably going to be one of the busiest sessions we’ve had in a long time,” says Greg Dean, director of industry relations for the South Dakota Telecommunications Association.

Dean is an experienced and respected lobbyist. He monitors legislative activity for the companies that provide broadband, telephone and video services to much of South Dakota.

Among the telecommunications issues likely to come up during the session, Dean expects to hear discussions about the extent to which voice services provided through Internet service technology should be regulated at the state or federal level.

AT&T is promoting a proposal that deals with how the state regulates Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, and other communications services provided through IP technology. Early reports indicate it would pre-empt state regulation of IP voice and other IP enabled services, regardless of how the Federal Communications Commission might classify such services.

“Our thought is that the bill is premature because we don’t have a good road map from the FCC. We don’t know what they will delegate to the states,” Dean says.

The FCC recently reclassified providers of basic broadband Internet access services as common carriers. Depending on the outcome of a related court case, Internet service providers could be subject to continued federal and state regulation on basic broadband Internet access services and certain communications services provided through broadband connections.

Dean says the time might come for a bill to defer regulatory power on IP matters to the federal government, but not yet. He says South Dakota should keep its seat at the negotiating table until a clearer picture emerges. That makes sense.

Other issues taking shape could also impact the state's telecommunications industry and its customers. 

SDN Communications and its 17 South Dakota member companies will pay close attention to what happens in the capital.

Of course, the state’s 105 lawmakers will face other major legislation. The biggest issues often boil down to money. Budget issues, such as education funding and Medicaid spending, take up a lot of time and attention.  But regulatory issues also can be contentious.

As I learned as a newspaper reporter who covered the Legislature for a few years, predicting the fate of proposals can be difficult. Good ideas can quickly and unceremoniously disappear, and new plans can come together quickly. Regardless, lawmakers will consider hundreds of bills during the course of the session. 

The only certainty in the Legislature is that one party will control the starting agenda. Republicans hold seat advantages in both chambers:

  • House: 58 Republicans to 12 Democrats 
  • Senate: 27 Republicans to 8 Democrats

Plus, two other Republicans will have a big say in what lawmakers accomplish. Gov. Dennis Daugaard will propose the state budget, push some bills forward and veto others he doesn’t like. Meanwhile, his sidekick, Lt. Gov. Matt Michaels, will preside over the Senate.

Greg Dean will also write guest blogs to keep our readers up to date on the telecommunications issues throughout the session. Sign up to receive weekly blog emails using the button below.

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The membership of SDN and the SDTA are similar. SDTA’s 19 member companies across the state:

  • Collectively own more than 30,000 miles of buried fiber optic line.
  • Provide broadband service to more than 300 communities 
  • Offer digital video to more than 80 communities
  • Serve some areas with wireless broadband 
  • Employ more than 1,000 technically skilled workers across the state.