Even in 2014, many parts of the Colorado are still not connected to the Internet – and if they are it’s not at high speeds. A package of bills to reform and update the state’s telecommunications industry cleared its first committee at the state capitol on Tuesday.
Similar proposals have failed in the past, but this year there’s more momentum and strong backing from the Governor’s office. Supporters say the flagship measure would redirect some of the money currently used to pay for high cost land lines into building broadband in underserved areas.
“The U.S. we invented Internet and right now we’re ranked in the middle of the developing nations,” said Mike Brazell, a county commissioner in Park County. “Colorado sits in the middle of the nation; the question is not whether we’ll flourish when we develop broadband but whether we can survive without it.”
People from the eastern plains testified that businesses struggle to operate and the lack of brand band hampers farmers and ranchers who want to use the latest advancements in technology.
“It’s not the answer to all our problems but it will help and is a step in the right direction,” said Yuma County Commissioner Robyn Wylie.
Another proposal would deregulate IP systems such as VoIp. The technology industry says it will help build the state’s reputation as a technology hub.
“The perception of us being a state that is not only accommodating but most importantly we want the perception of our state being a friendly place and a good place to do business to be a reality,” said Erik Mitisik the CEO of the Colorado Technology Association.
But others aren’t on board with the proposed changes.
“We don’t need to do anything. Competition is thriving in Colorado,” said William Levis, a volunteer legislative advocate for the American Association of Retired People or AARP. He opposes deregulation and worries resources will be taken from preserving vital landline services. Patricia Yaeger is with the Cross Disabilities Coalition and also testified against the bills. She’s hearing impaired and doesn’t support shifting any money from landlines to broadband.
“If you put it into broadband, what is going to make the telephone companies maintain the landlines? People who are hearing impaired, elderly and the poor rely on this service. In an emergency that’s the first defense,” said Yaeger.
Representative Tracy Kraft Tharp (D-Arvada) isn’t convinced by arguments that it’s an either-or proposition.
“I’m truly, honestly, trying to understand how we’re going to lose land line service through this,” she said.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to pass the package of measures, they either sailed through anonymously or with one dissenting vote. This year the Governor’s office has also said telecom reform is a priority. All but one proposal now head to other house committees before going to the full floor for further debate.