Colorado telecom reform bill dies

Denver Business Journal

By Greg Avery

May 4, 2012

A state Senate committee shelved sweeping telecom reform legislation Friday, ending an attempt to overhaul Colorado’s telecom rules and phase out $54 million in subsidies to phone companies.

The Senate Appropriations Committee postponed the bill indefinitely, eliminating its chance of passage in the waning days of the current lawmaking session.

It was the second consecutive year telecommunications reform proposals have been defeated.

The bipartisan proposal, Senate Bill 157, would have phased out state subsidies for rural landlines by 2025, gradually eliminating a $54 million fund paid for through a 2.9 percent fee on residential phone bills in Colorado.

The bill proposed shifting some of the landline subsidy money to a new state program designed to pay for rural broadband projects in underserved areas.

CenturyLink Inc., the state’s largest local phone company, fought the bill, saying it unfairly targeted its landlines for the loss of subsidies, for which CenturyLink received more than $50 million in 2011. Losing the subsidies would force the company to cut hundreds of jobs, it said.

Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink bought Denver-based Qwest last year.

A combination of pressure from CenturyLink and questions about the broadband fund sapped the momentum of the reform bill, which its sponsors called the most important legislation in this year’s session aside from the state budget.

Sen. Mark Scheffel, a Republican from Parker, who co-sponsored the legislation, blamed Demorats for the bill’s failure Friday.

“I am disappointed that the Senate Democrat leadership let politics derail a long-overdue reform that would have lowered the surcharge on phones and returned millions of dollars to hardworking Coloradans,” he said in a statement. “They should have allowed the bill to be debated on its merits.”