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Rewriting telecom laws on Colorado lawmakers' radar

 

By Andy Vuong
The Denver Post

April 26, 2011


Colorado legislators are attempting to modernize the state's telecommunications laws, introducing a measure Monday that lays the groundwork for the elimination of rate regulation over basic phone service.

Senate Bill 262 would order the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, beginning in 2013, to withdraw price controls in areas that have had access for two or more years to at least three phone-service options, which include wireless and Internet-based service.

The PUC currently controls retail pricing only on no-frills basic phone service.

The bill preserves the commission's jurisdiction over quality of service and authority to impose civil penalties for violations on regulated basic and 911 service.

SB 262 also would phase out a subsidy that reimburses Qwest and other carriers for providing phone service in remote areas where costs may exceed revenue.

The so-called high-cost fund collects about $60 million annually in the form of a phone-bill surcharge on both land-line and wireless service that's generally less than $1 a month. The bulk of that money is reimbursed to Qwest, the largest land-line provider in Colorado.

Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, and Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, are co-sponsors of the bill.

Jim Campbell, vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs for CenturyLink, which recently acquired Qwest, said the measure falls short of its attempt "to reduce Colorado's regulatory environment and to encourage investment in the infrastructure of our state."

"Unfortunately, the bill that was introduced falls short of the mark and, in its present form, will increase regulation, discourage investment and slow broadband deployment in rural Colorado," Campbell said in a prepared statement.

AT&T Colorado president Bill Soards said the measure would be the first significant rewrite of telecom laws since before the proliferation of cellphones. He said the last major update came in 1987.

AT&T offers wireless service in Colorado but does not provide land-line service in the state.

"Having a regulatory environment that reflects the current marketplace reality benefits all of us," Soards said. "We can't have technology laws that are stuck in the '80s."

Towns such as Parker fall under areas covered by the high-cost fund, even though much of the town has access to wireless and Internet-based phone service.

The bill calls on the PUC, beginning in July 2012, to re-evaluate whether areas currently designated as rural or high cost still fit the description. The measure would eliminate the high-cost fund altogether by January 2031.

Andy Vuong: 303-954-1209, avuong@denverpost.com or twitter.com/andyvuong