House OKs bills to boost state’s broadband reach
Measures seek to improve service in more rural areas of Colorado
Five landmark telecommunications reform bills that won approval in a House committee Tuesday have been widely held to be the product of a hard-fought compromise from several different groups.
But that didn’t appear to be the case when the House Business, Labor, Economic & Workforce Committee took testimony on the measures, part of which are designed to bring broadband service to rural parts of the state.
Groups representing the elderly and the disabled spoke out against the idea of deregulating Internet protocol and landline services, saying telecommunications companies would have no reason to meet their needs, and they would have nowhere to turn to lodge complaints.
Patricia Yeager, chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs-based Independence Center, said the Colorado Public Utilities Commission should continue to regulate the telecommunications industry.
“We need to keep regulation in place so that somebody has the hammer to make these telephone companies do what they’re supposed to do for consumers,” Yeager said. “They are very interested in profit and what drives the market, but people with disabilities and seniors and poor people are a large group, but they do not drive the market, and it’s up to government to help protect this group.”
Proponents of the bills, however, said there are protections for consumers, particularly over 911 emergency services.
Erik Mitisek, chief executive officer of the Colorado Technology Association, likened the opposition to fears people had over initial telegraph services of the 19th century, saying that even the Catholic Church said its impact would be of “biblical” proportions.
Other opponents said they were concerned that current cell phone services aren’t sophisticated enough to replace landline telephones, saying most seniors and disabled people rely heavily on that traditional service.
The bill’s sponsors, Reps. Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, said the measures will bring the state into the modern world when it comes to telecommunications laws, and create a special fund to bring broadband service to hard-to-reach areas of the state.
She and other lawmakers said expanding broadband service will help boost economic development in rural Colorado.
Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose and a co-sponsor of one of the measures, said parts of his district have lost jobs because of a lack of broadband service.
Still, Coram said he didn’t want to boost broadband at the cost of losing landlines.
The measure Coram is sponsoring not only creates a new fund to help pay for infrastructure for high-speed Internet, but it also maintains an existing High-Cost Support Mechanism fee that all phone users pay to bring basic landline service to rural areas of the state.
“Probably 50 percent of my district is without any service at all, whether it be landline or cellular,” he said. “So I was certainly not willing to bring this forward and sacrifice the high-cost funds where it is needed to provide those landline services to the remote areas.”