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AARP Fights 911 Telecom Bill

touchscreen smartphone with emergency call on the screen
Photo by iStock/milindri

Emergency officials, along with AARP and other activists, are opposing a 911 deregulation bill by the telecom industry for being anti-consumer and potentially unsafe.

“When you dial 9-1-1, you should be connected to police, fire and paramedics,” said Kelli Fritts, AARP Colorado advocacy director. “It sounds simple, but a couple of years ago, Colorado deregulated phone services.”

While AARP fought prior deregulation, a 2014 package of bills passed overwhelmingly. Now Senate Bill 16-183 has been introduced by Sens. Mark Scheffel and Andrew Kerr and Reps. Angela Williams and Polly Lawrence and it would leave consumers to fend for themselves by deregulating 911.

This last-minute bill is being promoted by the large telecom carriers to say that the Public Utilities Commission has no authority over 911 services. With no local oversight, your call might go through, or you might get the message “all circuits are busy,” as Scott Rose, Lakewood Police Department communications supervisor, described during a recent PUC hearing on this issue. Rose said there was an outage in January and Verizon customers were unable to call 911 from cell phones.

About “145,000 Lakewood residents were impacted and service was out for about three hours,” Rose said. “You expect that service to be there.”

The Colorado Professional Firefighters also oppose SB 183: "To ensure the safety of Colorado citizens during an emergency, they must have local recourse for failures in the system.  Investigating and preventing 911 outages is the proper role for the Public Utilities Commission and we oppose efforts to take that away," said Steve Clapham, the organization’s vice president.

Rep. Williams, who spearheaded the last package of deregulation bills in 2014, claimed 911 would not be stripped from PUC purview at the time.

“This bill (HB 14-1329) simply confirms the status quo. It preserves the Public Utility Commission regulatory authority over 911 emergency services,” Williams told a House committee in 2014.

The comments now have consumer activists scratching their heads about the proposed need for SB 183 and Williams’ support of a House version.

“If this bill passes, it will destroy your ability to complain about bad service and get a meaningful response,” Fritts said. “To whom would the telecom carriers be held accountable?  That question deserves an answer. This is a last-minute bill that denied stakeholder input. It only benefits telecom.”

Who would speak on behalf of consumers? Telecoms say consumers can change carriers if unsatisfied, but Fritts said it’s irresponsible to say shop around when a person calls 911 for help.

“The County Sheriffs of Colorado are currently opposed to SB 183 out of concern for 911 services and the citizens that it serves,” says executive director Chris Johnson.

In addition to the County Sheriffs of Colorado, those opposed to SB 183 include, AARP Colorado, Colorado Combined Chapter of NENA/APCO (National Emergency Number Association/Association of Public Safety Communications Officials), Emergency Medical Services Association of Colorado, Pitkin County board of Commissioners, AFL-CIO, Colorado State Fire Chiefs, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Professional Fire Fighters, Communications Workers of America, Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, Colorado 911 Resource Center, Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, Colorado Senior Lobby, Colorado Alliance of Retired Americans (CARA), Delta County Sheriff’s Office, Garfield County Emergency Communications Authority, Grand Junction Emergency Service Telephone Authority, Colorado Common Cause, Moffat County E911 Authority, League of Women Voters of Colorado.

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