COLORADO Telecoms package pushes broadband expansion
By Sheridan Block
Efforts to expand broadband development in rural areas of Colorado are finally being pushed forward by the state legislature as a five-bill telecommunications package passed through a House committee last Tuesday.
On March 26, a bipartisan package of bills aiming to modernize telecommunication regulations, expand rural broadband and protect public safety passed the Business, Labor, Economic and Workforce Development Committee.
"We've taken a first step today to a major upgrade for Colorado's telecommunications network," said Rep. Angela Williams (D-Denver) in a release on Tuesday. "These bills will bring benefits to all Colorado consumers, but I'm especially pleased that this package will give our rural neighbors the significant economic and social benefits of broadband access."
Williams is a prime sponsor for all five bills included in the package and has been instrumental in pushing efforts for broadband expansion during this legislative session.
One of the more noteworthy bills incorporated into the package is HB 14-1328, sponsored by Williams and Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose), that would reallocate subsidies from the High Cost Support Mechanism fee on phone bills to a new fund that will support rural broadband buildout. The bill was passed with a 10 to 1 vote and will be sent to the Appropriations Committee.
HB 14-1327, sponsored by Williams and Rep. Carole Murray (R-Castle Rock), proposes to eliminate state sales tax on broadband equipment, reportedly streamlining permitting, construction, modification, maintenance and operation of cell towers, fiberoptic lines and other infrastructure. A release from Colorado House Democrats states that "speedier technology upgrades will have their biggest payoff in rural areas benefiting from increased broadband coverage." The committee passed the bill unanimously and the bill will be sent to the Finance Committee for review.
HB 14-1329, sponsored by Williams and Murray, offers a regulatory framework for voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and Internet protocol (IP) services, such as Skype. The bill passed with a 10 to 1 vote and will head to the Appropriations Committee.
HB 14-1330, sponsored by Williams, will update telecommunications terminology and definitions in statutes. The bill passed unanimously and will be sent to the House floor.
HB 14-1331, sponsored by Williams and Murray, deregulates basic phone services but still allows for the Public Utilities Commission to retain authority to set maximum rates and deregulate basic service if needed. The bill also proposes reductions in the High Cost fund, of which a portion of savings will be passed on to consumers. The bill passed with a 10 to 1 vote and will be reviewed by the Appropriations Committee.
"Coloradans deserve a modern, cost-effective, telecoms system that will maximize our competitiveness," said Williams. "But as we move into the 21st century, we're keeping the safety net that's been in place for decades, including PUC oversight and protections for the 011 system and our landline customers."
Gov. John Hickenlooper expressed his support for the telecommunications package in a statement on Monday, March 25.
"Simply put, we have a technological divide in Colorado; we cannot afford to have a technological divide in Colorado; and these bills go a long way toward fixing that," he said.
"Too many Coloradans, especially those in the rural and remote areas of our state, too often don't have the same access that other parts of the state do to reliable broadband Internet service. If passed, the regulatory certainty and sensible incentives in these bills will help ensure we build these necessary bridges to the 21st century so that everyone in our state, regardless of where they live, has a fair chance to grow and prosper, to compete locally and in the global marketplace."