DENVER - Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several telecommunication reform bills into law Friday that he said will help bring high-speed internet to rural Colorado while updating outdated laws that govern the communications technology industry.

"Most of these laws haven't been changed in several decades," Hickenlooper said, just before he signed four of five bills in the telecommunications package. "But there's been a need to update our telecommunications laws to reflect an industry that has been constantly changing and innovating and to make sure we are getting the best results for our citizens."

House Bill 1327 offers businesses a rebate of sales tax and use taxes paid on broadband (high speed internet) technology installed in hard-to-serve and rural areas of the state. The tax refunds are limited to $1 million per year.

Lawmakers hope the tax break will be an incentive for private companies to provide greater broadband access in areas of the state that now lack service.

The bill also streamlines the process of building and operating cell towers and fiber optic lines.

Also aiming to increase high-speed internet access in rural areas is House Bill 1328, which Hickenlooper said he will sign in Gunnison on Saturday. The bill creates a broadband fund for grants to private companies that develop high-speed internet connections in hard-to-serve areas.

It's not clear how much will be available for the grants as it depends on the amount of money that is no longer needed in another fund that was set up to ensure telephone service to high-cost areas.

"Unfortunately there has been a digital divide for several years and these bills aren't going to solve it, but they are the first step towards really bridging over that digital divide," Hickenlooper said. "These five bills go a long way while at the same time protecting our consumers and protecting our public safety."

The other three bills Hickenlooper signed Friday - House Bills 1329, 1330 and 1331 - deregulate the industry, update antiquated language and reduce some industry fees mandating some of the savings be passed to consumers in reduced rates. The bills also preserve the Public Utilities Commission regulation over 911 services, something the bill's author Rep. Angela Williams said was crucial.

"I have been working hard with my colleagues that stand with me now toward these changes over the last four years," said Williams, D-Denver. "The final bills represent a bi-partisan effort and an open dialogue."


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