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 …