Executive Director, CoPIRG
Executive Director, CoPIRG
Consumers Will Be Left Without Advocate on Telephone Issues
Colorado’s consumer watchdog is poised to get disconnected from telephone issues by the Colorado State Senate Friday. Unless an amendment is approved to allow Colorado’s consumer advocate, the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), to continue to do its job on telecom issues, Coloradans will be in danger of losing the representative that for 30 years has fought against unjustified prices and anti-consumer practices and won.
“For years Coloradans have had an effective consumer watchdog whose sole mission is to advocate for consumers,” said Danny Katz, Director of the consumer advocacy group CoPIRG. “They have a track record of success asking the tough questions that have cut waste and stopped telephone company abuse.”
Over the last 30 years, the OCC has saved Coloradans $1.7 billion on gas, electric and telecommunication issues. For every $1 they spent, they saved Coloradans $30. According to state statute, the OCC has to be reauthorized every few years. The state review of the OCC this year recommended full reauthorization. However, the bill to reauthorize Colorado’s consumer watchdog did not materialize until the very end of the session and removed the OCC’s ability to review and weigh in on telecom issues.
On Wednesday, the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee approved the move to stop the OCC from advocating for consumers on telephone issues. At the hearing, telecommunication companies like Centurylink testified in favor of eliminating the OCC from telecom.
“It’s not surprising that the telecom industry wants to stop Colorado’s consumer watchdog from standing up to them and asking the tough questions,” said Katz. “It’s disappointing that State Senators are siding with these telecom companies over consumers and voting to eliminate an effective advocate for consumers when tens of millions of dollars are on the line.”
CoPIRG highlighted a number of major decisions that the PUC will need to make in the next couple of years that would benefit from having a consumer voice including:
- The distribution of tens of millions of dollars from the state’s high cost fund built up every year from a surcharge on many consumers phone bills. Telephone companies like Centurylink apply for the money, which is only suppose to fund programs that provide phone service in hard to reach areas.
- A 2018 review by the PUC of Colorado’s landline deregulation legislation that was passed last year to ensure there is no unacceptably high prices or poor service.
- Proposals to increase the 9-1-1 surcharges that all telephone customers pay to fund critical 9-1-1 services. A recent CoPIRG report found surcharges vary widely and 53 of 57 local authorities are at or above the threshold set by state statute that requires that further increases must be justified before the PUC. Some residents in Colorado pay four times more than others.
“It’s clear who the loser is if our consumer watchdog is stopped from doing its job – Colorado consumers,” said Katz. “Tens of millions of Colorado consumers’ dollars are on the line. Whether it’s the high cost fund or our 9-1-1 fees, we deserve an advocate whose only interest is watching out for ours.”
On Monday, Governor John Hickenlooper announced his support for keeping the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) connected on telecom issues. Separately, Representatives Winter and Esgar bill, HB15-1381, which also retains the OCC’s ability to advocate for consumers on telephone issues before the PUC, passed the first floor vote in the House. In addition, newspapers across the state have editorialized in support of keeping telecom as part of the mission of the OCC.
The Grand Junction Sentinel’s opinion board concluded in their editorial “Well-paid lobbyists have succeeded to this point in convincing lawmakers that the OCC’s mission should change — which is a microcosm for why it shouldn’t.”
The Legislature has until May 6th to pass the OCC reauthorization bill.
“It’s simple. Colorado’s consumer watchdog has done its job well. It has more work to do. Senators should stand with the OCC and with consumers,” said Katz