Beware of four bills sailing through Capitol

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Four bills under consideration by the state Senate are somewhat misleadingly called the “telecommunications modernization legislative package.” According to the folks pushing HB 1328-133, they will “protect consumers, deliver the benefits of competition, protect 911, create a broadband fund and establish a streamlined process for private investment.”

The state House already passed the package by an overwhelming margin, so it’s likely the bills will hit Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk within days.

Only AARP and Common Cause have refused to join the Capitol’s amen chorus, warning that the reforms created by the bills aren’t reforms at all.

Why not? After 20 years, isn’t it time to modernize and deregulate? Proponents cite unnamed “economic studies confirming that modernizing regulation can lead to lower prices.”

In other words, wake up people! Even geezers have cell phones. It’s time to dig up the copper and join the 21st century.

The bills have created a feeding frenzy among lobbyists. More than 30 are on the job, representing Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Centurylink, TW Telecom, Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association, Colorado Cable Television Association, Colorado Telecommunications Association, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and DirecTV.

The bills are lengthy, complex and opaque. Despite the soothing clichés of the telecom warriors, they’re not really about improved service or lower prices. They’re about deregulation, and the increased revenue deregulation can bring.

Vast national enterprises such as Comcast look upon local regulatory authorities as farmers look upon locusts — troublesome pests that should be eradicated. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is seen as a particularly nasty swarm, with its mission of guaranteeing reliable telephone access to underserved areas of the state.

Sounds good, but cell phone service doesn’t begin to approach the reliability that AT&T once achieved.

In the halcyon days of copper, Ma Bell’s dial tone was available to phone customers 99.999 percent of the time, meaning that it typically was down only 5.26 minutes in a year.

Five nines, 99.999; that’s still the world standard of reliability, which no cell provider comes close to achieving.

AT&T is my cell provider today — like most people I know, I don’t have a landline. My phone won’t work on the second floor of my Westside home, and there are dead spots all over town. Driving up to Cripple Creek, cell service is unavailable for all but a few minutes of the 42-mile trip.

That’s OK. I far prefer the convenience, portability and extraordinary capabilities of my smartphone to the old bedside clunker. But I’m not sure that taking the PUC out of the equation and leaving us to the tender mercies of Verizon, AT&T and the gang will improve rural phone service, increase broadband access and lower prices — especially with a defanged and irrelevant PUC.

The process began with a group of stakeholders who met with Hickenlooper to discuss revisions to existing telecommunications laws. The stakeholders initially included AARP, but the 50-and-older organization was soon shown the door — no opponents needed!

Once the big dogs had compromised their differences and produced the bills, the train left the station. Only a handful of legislators opposed the concentrated power of the industry, not to mention the take-no-prisoners lobbyists prowling the Capitol (including our own Steve “The Hammer” Durham). AARP was effectively demonized as technophobes who believe that “everyone in Colorado still uses the old black phone attached to that wire coming out of your wall.”

In 1999, Citigroup led the successful effort to repeal the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated commercial banking from investment banking and insurance. The “too big to fail” entities created thereby ignited speculative frenzies that led to the world financial crisis eight years later.

If that surprised you, you’re not alone. The bankers scammed President Bill Clinton and both houses of Congress.

People who run multi-billion dollar companies are smart, tough and know how to deal with politicians.

Take David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, who was the subject of a profile in last Sunday’s New York Times.

“My priorities in political giving are Comcast priorities, “ he told the Times. “I don’t kid myself.” Cohen raised $10 million for President Obama in 2012, yet he says that Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor “has become a very good personal friend.” The Times noted that Cohen even has a pal in our insignificant corner of the woods.

“(Cohen) refers to John Hickenlooper, the Colorado governor, a Democrat, as ‘another friend of mine.’ ”

Where’s my pen? I need to sign David’s bills …

8 Responses to Beware of four bills sailing through Capitol

  1. Mr. Hazelhurst,
    Thank you for interpreting those bills and exposing them for what they really are. Too bad they all passed….

    Theresa Kledzik
    April 29, 2014 at 1:54 pm

  2. Well, since neither you, the Independent, nor the Gazette chose to look into, much less oppose the overreach these bills represent, its too late. For both Houses of the Colorado Assembly have already passed all of them.

    I personally lobbied against them at the Capitol. Where only AARP put up a good case against many measures For I saw LOTS of things wrong.

    Let me just mention a few:

    When all voice communications will be forced into VOIP, instead of dial-tone copper AND the elimination of the Colorado Public Communication’s (PUC)voice circuits regulatory commission, there will be NO state body to complain to if your VOIP calls don’t work, or work satisfactorily. AND whatever company provides VOIP can charge whatever they want – no PUB regulatory oversight for ‘fair return on their investment, as was controlled when dial up lines were installed.

    The tens of thousands of elderly Coloradoans who have medical-monitoring devices in their homes almost ALL require voice line connections to hospitals. They can’t go over VOIP, and if the person is NOT on the Internet – to hell with them. Let em die.

    Even I am affected by that. For I have a heart defibrillator in my chest, by the leading maker of such devices, Medtronics. Except that when my heart moniter detects a problem, it can wirelessly signal to a device in my bedroom. But THAT device can ONLY call my hospital automatically over a DIAL UP LINE.

    And I have ATD home security Alarm system. A national and state wide service. It TOO, can ONLY call 911 or the police by DIAL phones, which I have.

    Colorado Rural folks, the vast majority of whom ONLY have dial phones will either get nothing or be charged incredibly high fees to lay ‘fiber’ to their homes. The ONLY beneficiaries of these laws will be dense urban dwellers, the Cable industry, and fiber-line replacemets for Century Link.

    When California ‘de-regulated’ like Colorado just has, telephone service cost sky rocketed. Brace yourself. You just let your State Reps gouge you.

    David Hughes
    April 29, 2014 at 2:16 pm

  3. And oh yeah. The Telecom Illiterates among us do not realize that the old copper line telephone circuits carried live voltage on their wires. So IF the power went out in your house, either intentionally cut or by natural causes, you could STILL dial for help or 911. The phone lines would still work.

    When you are forced to accept Internet fiber OR Cable, and power goes out, I dare you to find a way to call 911 except by Cell Phone (which has GREAT trouble locating you, without an fixed address and a traditional dial phone number.)

    David Hughes
    April 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

  4. Another, little observed – by the Legislators who rammed through this legislation’ – reality for Colorado’s rural folk, is that (1) every corner of the State is, and will not be, covered by ‘Cell Tower Wireless. i.e. even if all rural people are forced into cell phones, they will NOT work in large segments of the state. No coverage.

    Then there were bold – and as yet unproven even where it is being tested – claims that LTE Wireless links (wi-fi on steroids) will replace the need for dial-up wired phones, or fiber cable to every farm and ranch house.

    As the recipient of a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation back in 1993-2000 for me to study, experiment, and report on ‘wireless internet’ to rural schools and communities, I have as much or more experience in rural and remote area wireless internet as anyone in this country. I know both the usefulness AND the gaps in coverage wireless gives to rural Colorado.

    I think there are going to be many rural Colorado towns, farms, and ranches that will have NO telecom coverage one dial-up is dropped.

    But then, going from the 1933 ‘Universal Telephone’ Mandate for the entire nation, paid in part by the Universal Service fund ALL of you see on your telephone bills, now only the fat cat cable and urban wireless companies (some monopolies) will benefit. Unless rural folk are willing to pay very high prices – such as ordering phone or internet companies to lay tens of miles of fiber just to one home, trailer-park home, school, or business. And there will be nothing to replace the State and National mandate that every human-occupied place in the nation must have voice telephone service.

    David Hughes
    April 30, 2014 at 8:54 am

  5. When was the last time anything good came from a consortium of these tyrants? The only thing they can all agree on is that they should be able to take whatever they want at the public’s expense.

    TW Telecom
    Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association
    Colorado Cable Television Association
    Colorado Telecommunications Association

    April 30, 2014 at 4:36 pm

  6. You are right Chad.

    In fact the ONLY protection YOU may have against future slower and poorer Internet Service, as those telecom robbers start charging the net giants – like Google, Net Flix, and Hollywood high prices for premium much faster Net Line service, will come from the new FCC Chief Tom Wheeler – who has just promised he will use his authority to prevent the giants from screwing the ordinary user of the Internet.

    Ever since the Courts killed efforts by the FCC to impose ‘network neutrality’ on the big and small Internet networks, and effectively killed its efforts to be sure there was not blatant efforts by the big internet providers to just serve the giants while letting you and me accept slow internet speeds, only the FCC can protect YOUR interests.

    But I am afraid not ONE Colorado Springs news provider – neither any of the three Television networks, NOR the Gazette Telegraph NOR the Independent, NOR this ‘Business Journal’ have been willing to dirty their minds with such ‘regulatory’ matters.

    So just you and I Chad, are echoing back in forth in this. empty (of commentary) chamber. And I see no evidence that the Colorado Springs Business Journal NOR Hazelhurst (who only intermittently dirties his mind with such matters,) ever take on the issues which will define YOUR and MINE future telecommunications experiences. Even though, in my opinion, individual, small work-from home, and new innovative services which use the Internet will EVER pull Colorado Springs Economy out of its perpetual slough of despond trying to attract job-producing companies to El Paso County. (While Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, and even Pueblo are landing new businesses and well paid jobs)

    David Hughes
    May 1, 2014 at 8:42 am

  7. Hey Business Journal: how about doing an in-depth series on our sorry state of broadband? You can start with the broken promises and hundreds of billions of tax dollars the telecoms pocketed from the 1996 telecom act. You can end with CenturyLink promising our very own regulatory commission that it would spend $70 million in broadband improvements for Colorado residents, while in actuality they spent it to buy this deregulation for themselves instead. You can then investigate why, in the light of everything you find, CenturyLink et al insists that a 1.5 Mbps DSL connections are considered adequate broadband, while executives, lobbyists, and legislators continue to pocket BILLIONS from this continued fleecing of the general public.

    Do you really think anyone with half of an education is going to move to the Springs when they know nobody here is even questioning our pathetic internet infrastructure? If the Springs wants to attract these young professionals that would be one of the FIRST places to start shining a little sunlight.

    May 1, 2014 at 9:05 pm

  8. You are right Johnathan. But I go further than just what it will take to get the ‘young professionals’ to relocate to the Springs. As if their ‘personal’ use – and speed – of the Internet is the only issue.

    I argued at least 5 years ago – when the City had *another* ‘Community effort called ‘Dreams’ to come up with future possibilities for the city – that Colorado Springs ought to try to become an ‘Intelligent City’ where EVERY individual (not just company) professional who had something to offer – distance learning education, architectural skills, financial advice, legal advice, technological advice, digital entertainment – could EXPORT the products of their brain power via a high speed enough Internet, while importing dollars.

    But there would have to be a far faster (for everybody including companies and institutions – colleges, school districts, businesses) and robust Internet that what we have now. Colorado Springs has a POOR digital infrastructure.

    I was able, starting in 1993 to bring $2 million dollars from awards from the National Science Foundation for my telecom-wireless pioneering from little Old Colorado City – where it took 13 years before US West could even reach OCC from downtown 3 miles away, with dedicated (and costly) T-1 dedicated line. And I worked from HOME as much as from my small office in Old Colo City historic district.

    There would be ANOTHER benefit to the city. WHEN and IF those who live in places like Manitou Springs could connect up from a small Gazebo in Manitou and link to the company they work for east of Academy Blvd, they would NOT be pounding the 10 miles of city pavement going ‘to work’ every day, to do the same thing they could from a properly connected spot inside a Manitou ‘work center.’ While the city spends ever more $$$ to repair or expand the streets. “Distance” work is the future.


    David Hughes
    May 2, 2014 at 12:50 pm