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Telecommunications Bill Opposed by Colorado AARP Gets the Ax

AARP Colorado was instrumental in killing a bill that would have relaxed regulations of basic telecommunications services, which could have opened the door to fraud against seniors.

House Bill 1281 went down in flames this week following a veto by Gov. Bill Ritter.

“This is a huge win for us,” said AARP Colorado Director of Advocacy Kelli Fritts. “The bill died on second reading in the Senate, but the proponents brought it back. We’re just ecstatic the governor saw what we saw: That once oversight is gone, it would be difficult to get it back.”

In his veto filing, Gov. Ritter said, “significant changes to the regulatory framework such as those in this bill need to be thoroughly vetted in public hearings either before the legislature or the PUC, particularly when consumer protection is at stake.”

HB 1281, concerning the deregulation of telecommunications service, would have permanently exempted interconnected voice-over-internet-protocol, known as VoIP, from regulation by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. VoIP is a recent innovation that allows consumers to place calls through a broadband Internet connection instead of through telephone lines. VoIP has had little regulation, either in Colorado or at the federal level, but it is flourishing, Ritter said.

Preemptively barring the state from regulating VoIP at this time is unwise, considering activity at the federal level concerning VoIP. The Federal Communications Commission has not yet taken a position on whether VoIP is strictly an information technology or a telecommunications service, but the FCC is currently in the process of studying the technology to determine if greater regulation is prudent. At the very least, Ritter said, the FCC should be allowed to study VoIP further.

Meanwhile, the PUC can still regulate Voice over Internet Protocol.

“Our basic policy is that the state adopt rules to promote a market structure for telecommunications services that ensure all consumers – whether they subscribe to traditional telephone services or choose VoIP services that are marketed to customers as substitutes for traditional telephone service – have ready access to affordable, reliable and high-quality voice telecommunications service,” AARP’s Fritts said. “This bill would have jeopardized that access.”

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