Authors kill own telecom measure

Lawmakers: 2.9% fee for rural areas on the line

DENVER – Lawmakers who wanted to reform the state’s old telecommunications laws have gotten a busy signal.

With less than a week left in their yearly session, the sponsors of the first major rewrite of the telecom law since 1987 chose to kill their own bill.

It died in the face of delays in the Senate and furious lobbying, the sponsors said.

“I’m very, very disappointed after all the work that was put into this,” said Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 157.

The bill would have phased out the 2.9 percent fee on every phone bill that subsidizes phone service in hard-to-reach rural areas.

However, sponsors said CenturyLink, which gets about $50 million in annual subsidies, does not need help to serve many areas that are now highly populated suburbs.

Small communities such as Silverton wanted some of the subsidy to be redirected to expand broadband services in underserved areas.

But Tochtrop said that was not the real point of the bill.

“It was frankly hijacked to become a broadband reform bill.” she said.

Her fellow sponsor, Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, blamed his fellow senators for not acting on the bill since it passed its first hearing on March 21.

“The fact that we’ve all been sitting on our hands here and not having hearings on this is, I think, the indictment on this body,” Scheffel said.

More than 60 lobbyists engaged on the bill on behalf of a variety of interests, from phone companies to cable providers to rural interests such as the Farm Bureau.

Originally, the bill would have eliminated the subsidy and state price regulation in areas where consumers can choose phone service from at least five companies.

Last-minute amendments to the 70-page bill proposed substantial changes. Tochtrop and Scheffel said they thought it was inappropriate to attempt a major rewrite of such a complicated bill before the end of the session Wednesday.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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