THE CITY OF Minneapolis--or Edina, or Hibbing, you name it--could be your next phone service provider if state Sen. Steve Kelley has his way. The St. Paul DFLer has introduced a bill that would allow cities to offer telecommunications services including telephone, Internet access, and cable. Kelley says the bill would create more competition in local markets, especially in communities where phone companies--newly deregulated under the 1996 Telecommunications Act--don't choose to make major investments.
But US West, Minnesota's largest local phone service provider, opposes the bill. "We feel the purpose of government is to govern, not to compete with private industry," says spokeswoman Mary Hisley. She says the company is concerned about "unfair competition" from cities using public dollars to back their telecommunications ventures. Besides, Hisley says, Kelley's bill is unnecessary: Current law, she notes, already allows municipalities to enter the telecommunications market if two-thirds of the voters in a city choose to allow it.
The Senate Jobs, Energy and Community Development Committee could vote on Kelley's proposal as early as Thursday. "It's going to be very close," he says. "The phone companies are in favor of competition in the abstract sense, but they don't want to have more competitors."