Even in 2014 many parts of Colorado are still not connected to the Internet and if they are it’s not at high speeds. A package of bills to reform and update Colorado’s telecommunications industry has cleared its first committee at the state capitol.
Similar proposals have failed in the past, but now there’s more momentum and strong backing from the Governor’s office. Supporters say the flagship measure would redirect some of the money currently used to pay for high cost land lines into building broadband in underserved areas.
“We invented Internet - the United States invented Internet - and right now we’re ranked in the middle of the developing nations,” said Mike Brazell, a county commissioner in Park County.
“Colorado right now sits in the middle of the states," said Brazell. "the question is not whether we’ll flourish when we develop broadband but whether we can survive without it.”
People from the eastern plains testified that businesses struggle to operate and the lack of broadband hampers farmers and ranchers who want to use the latest advancements in technology.
“It’s not the answer to all our problems but it will help and is a step in the right direction,” said Yuma county commissioner Robyn Wylie.
Another proposal would deregulate IP systems such as VOIP. Erik Mitisik, the CEO of the Colorado Technology Association says it will help build the state’s reputation as a technology hub.
“The perception of us being a state that is not only accommodating from a business climate and a business perspective to allow our technology companies to grow and thrive,” said Mitisik. "But most importantly we want the perception of our state being a friendly place and a friendly climate to be operating a business in to be the reality."
Others aren’t on board with the proposed changes.
“There is a situation now where we don’t need to do anything. Competition is thriving in Colorado,” said William Levis, a volunteer legislative advocate for the American Association of Retired People.
He opposes deregulation and worries resources will be taken from preserving vital landline services.
Patricia Yaeger with the Cross Disabilities Coalition also testified against the bills. She’s hearing impaired and doesn’t support shifting any money from landlines to broadband.
“If you take that money away and put it into broadband, what is going to make the telephone companies maintain those vital landlines, for people like me who are hearing impaired?” asked Yaeger. “For seniors and poor people who really need the landline?
"How will we do alerts to those people? In an emergency an alert is the first defense."
The argument that it’s an either or proposition wasn't convincing to Representative Tracy Kraft Tharp (D-Arvada).
“I’m really, truly, honestly, trying to understand how we’re going to lose landline service through this,” she said.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to pass the package of measures, they either sailed through anonymously or with one dissenting vote. The Governor’s office has also said telecom reform is a priority. All but one proposal now head to other house committees before going to the full floor for further debate.