One for the people over the telecom industry

Posted on May 12, 2016

Senators Mark Scheffel and Andy Kerr, along with Representatives Angela Williams and Polly Lawrence, introduced a bill to deregulate 9-1-1 emergency service in Colorado late in the legislative session.

We opposed the bill for two major reasons. One, this bill would remove a level of accountability the public has over the most basic of public services: emergency service from a 9-1-1 call. Two, after someone in Colorado is seriously injured (or worse) as a result of a 9-1-1 call failure on an unregulated line, there is the possibility that no action would be taken to solve that problem, leaving more Coloradans at risk. 

Connectivity is essential to participation in civil society.  Emergency communications need to be reliable, every time, across media.

The bill was sold by its sponsors as a clarification to a bill from several years ago, when the rest of the telecommunications industry was deregulated. At the time, many felt comfortable with deregulation--as long as basic emergency service was still regulated.  Because these emergency services were still regulated, the 9-1-1 community, including fire and police representatives, were okay with the deregulation legislation.   But they were not ok with this year’s bill, as it was no clarification, but an effort to remove public accountability over basic emergency 9-1-1 service, no matter the medium (mobile phone, internet phones (VoIP, IP phones). 

This fight was about accountability and safety. Who will be held accountable when a failed 9-1-1 call leads to injury or even death? Where will family members go to find out what happened when such a call fails? And who will be responsible for fixing these issues?  The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is currently tasked with providing these services. Senate Bill 16-183 would have removed public accountability, and left us to work only with the telecommunications industry and the Federal Communications Commission in Washington DC.

Whether a 9-1-1 call comes from a landline, a mobile phone, a VoIP phone, or another IP voice service, our emergency calls need public oversight. Period.

The telecommunications industry has an army of lobbyists at the ready to move or kill bills in the Colorado General Assembly. The strength of the organizations fighting against them makes all the difference in winning the day.

Because of members like you, we forced a change in direction. Colorado Common Cause advocates—along with members of the AARP of Colorado and the public safety sector—reached out to their elected officials and asked them to fight this bill. As a result, we forced the bill sponsors to rewrite the bill so that it no longer deregulated 9-1-1, but instead set up a committee to study the needs of the 9-1-1 network in Colorado.

Halting the deregulation of 9-1-1 service is a major accomplishment, and we owe thanks to our committed members and advocates.  Go team!


Office: Colorado Common Cause

Issues: Media and Democracy, Media and Democracy

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