A bill that could bring faster broadband internet service to rural Colorado bounced out of a Colorado House committee Tuesday and appears destined for the governor’s desk, eventually.
Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, with the two top-ranking House Democrats, passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee 10-1 Monday afternoon.
But first, the committee hammered out more than a half-dozen amendments on speed, geographic area, board makeup, obsolete language and duration to complete projects. The bill has undergone scores of amendments since it was introduced on the first day of the session.
And because of Monday’s amendments, it will have to go back to the Senate for a re-vote, assuming the amendments stick the rest of the way through the House. The Senate passed the bill 31-4 last month.
SB 2 would take money from an existing surcharge paid by phone customers and route it to the state’s broadband deployment fund. The surcharge generates a total of about $35 million a year. Broadband expansion grants would get 60 percent of that from next year through 2023, then it would get all of it. The money would be used to help install public infrastructure to support broadband internet in rural areas of the state.
Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor, pushed back on the bill. She supports rural broadband, but she thinks the bill moves too aggressively to raid a fund of money paid by phone users to help keep cost manageable for rural phone service.
“We need to strike the right balance as we transfer from supporting voice service to supporting broadband service,” she said. “Taking too much away from my constituents and other rural constituents too quickly could cause rate shock on their phone bills.”
House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver and Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder presented the bill to the committee. Becker’s sprawling district includes a swatch of remote region north of Boulder to the Wyoming state line.
“It’s important to rural Colorado that their broadband meets the needs of growing communities,” Becker said, “that it meets the needs of their schools, that it meets the needs of their hospitals, that it meets the needs of all their businesses.
“This is a good step in the right direction to do this.”
Duran signaled the bill’s importance to far-flung communities across the state.
“I think this is going to be, hopefully, one of the great achievements we’re able to get done this legislative session.”