Federal aid potentially strengthens broadband in parts of Sioux Falls area and northeastern S.D.

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Two telecom providers received the go-ahead from state regulators Thursday to offer better broadband internet service in spots next to territories they already serve around Sioux Falls and in northeastern South Dakota.

The state Public Utilities Commission approved expansion designations for Alliance Communications to serve 216 more locations spread throughout Minnehaha and Lincoln counties and for Interstate Communications to reach a cluster of 732 more northeast of Watertown.

The companies will get federal financial assistance to offer service to the additional customers. Commissioners praised the companies for stepping forward. PUC chairman Chris Nelson said the Alliance plan is also noteworthy because of a 2018 ruling by the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in a Minnesota case.

Essentially the appeals court said that phone calls using what’s known as VOIP — voice over internet protocol — are an information service because the spoken words are broken into information packets that are sent over the internet, while traditional telephone conversations are a telecommunications service because they use what the court described as “‘circuit switching’ technology, which establishes a dedicated pathway for the duration of a call.”

South Dakota law gives the commission supervision over telecommunication companies but doesn’t directly address information companies. Alliance plans to offer VOIP.

Said Nelson: “State public utility commissions have historically had a role of protecting telecommunication consumers in their states. The 8th Circuit has ruled a telecommunications provided using VOIP technology is not a traditional telecommunications service, even though the consumer can’t tell the difference when making a telephone call, and therefore states cannot regulate VOIP services.

“While this ruling did not impact on the request from Alliance for an expanded ETC designation which was the question before the commission this week, there was mention that Alliance could not be required to obtain a traditional certificate of authority to provide telephone service in those new areas because they are going to use interconnected VOIP technology.

“The significance of the (court) decision is that as VOIP technology increases in prevalence, commission authority to protect telecommunications consumers is eliminated per the 8th Circuit decision.”   

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