Senate bill proposes changes to CC Comm |

Senate bill proposes changes to CC Comm

Steve Ranson
A Nevada state Senate bill has been proposed to make changes to the sale of county-owned telephone companies such as CC Commuications.

The Nevada State Senate’s Committee on Government Affairs heard testimony on Tuesday regarding changes that would give Churchill County Commissioners more control over the local telephone company.

General Manager Mark Feest said Senate Bill 109 would bring the county-owned telephone company into the 21st century and keep CC Communications on a more solid basis. He said the original bill governing county-owned telephone systems in Nevada goes back more than 100 years ago. CC Communications, which began as Churchill County Telephone, celebrated its centennial last autumn.

Joint sponsors of the bill are State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, and District 38 Assemblywoman Robin Titus, R-Smith Valley. The Senate passed the bill earlier this month, 19-0, but no vote has been scheduled in the Assembly.

“The state allows the county to own a phone company, but there has not been a lot of update to it,” he said. “The current process does not align with how a phone company is bought and sold.”

Feest emphasized the phone company is not for sale but added that other independent rural telephone companies across the United States have been gobbled up by corporations or merged with other companies.

“The issue is happening a lot in rural areas where companies are being merged or sold,” Feest said, adding that SB 109 gives more protection to Nevada’s rural independent telephone companies.

Under the current law, if the county were to sell or lease the phone company, then Churchill County voters would be required to vote on the deal. Currently, Feest said it would be hard to consummate a deal.

Under language in the proposed bill, the county commissioners would be able to negotiate a sale or lease in closed session. Furthermore, Feest said amended language in Section 4 states commissioners would not be obligated to accept the highest bid based on the return of investment to the county.

“The commissioners will make the best deal for the county,” Feest said.

Other changes included in Section 4 the preservation of existing jobs and future employment opportunities within the county, the preservation of future revenue generated by the telephone system within the county and the likelihood of local control and management of the telephone system.

Another change in the Nevada Revised Statutes would remove the provision of the sale being advertised in local newspapers; instead, Feest said if the county were to sell or lease the telephone company, advertisements would be placed in trade journals that focus on the telephone industry.

Titus said Feest’s foresight impresses her.

“They’re keeping up to change,” she said. “This is the smart thing to do.”

Titus said she has received some calls from Fallon residents, but added no one is opposed to the changes.

Feest said he discussed this bill with three concerned Fallon residents and one group. He added one man was not happy with the proposed changes that voters were being taken out of the decision-making process to either approve or reject a sale.

Fallon resident Larry Jackson said CC Communications provides a good service to the community and it’s a good employer with quality employees; however, Jackson said he disagrees with SB 109 that takes the vote away from the residents when a purchaser wants to buy or lease the locally-owned telephone company.

“Basically, in my opinion, voters don’t get everything right but most of the time the masses of people are pretty good judges of what must be done,” he said.

Jackson also said one board of commissioners may be committed to having with the county-owned telephone company, but the next board may not as enthuastic. According to Jackson, voters may be less influenced by buyers than a commission.

“I’m not saying anything is wrong with the local board,” he said. “I know they want to protect the phone company. That’s their goal … but they are doing it the wrong way.”

By making the bill public, Jackson said the state is telling the world that this is an advertisement for sale. If the commissioners ever decided to sell or lease the telephone company under the current law, Jackson said the purchaser would have to convince residents that the sale was in their and the county’s best interest.

Because of the revised language in the bill, Jackson said the action may be jeopardizing the phone company.

“Sometimes the action does the opposite of it (what lawmakers intend),” Jackson added.