The types of services we call “public utilities” have existed in Colorado since the late 1800s, beginning with the railroad boom of the 1870s. In 1885, there were electric street lights in central Denver, and a telephone line from Denver to Pueblo. The Colorado Legislature did not officially define such services as public utilities and bring them under state regulation until 1913, when it established the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to replace its predecessor agency, the Railroad Commission.
Under the 1913 act, the PUC absorbed the function of the Railroad Commission to set rates for the state’s “common carriers.” In 1915, the definition of “common carrier” was amended to include trucks and automobiles used for transportation of freight and passengers. PUC-regulated types of transportation, at one time or other, have included everything from electric streetcars to intrastate air carriers.
The regulation of so-called “fixed” utilities—electric, gas, water and telecommunications companies—also has seen some ebb and flow over the decades. Colorado’s rural electric companies went to the legislature to seek PUC regulation in 1961, and then sought an end to that regulation in 1983. In 1983, the legislature also ended the Commission’s jurisdiction over municipal utilities. The 1980s-90s saw historic changes to telecommunications regulation—with the introduction of competition in both local and long-distance markets.
Today, the PUC has at least some degree of jurisdiction over hundreds of fixed utilities and more than 10,000 motor carriers in Colorado. Throughout the changes of more than 100 years, however, the Commission has remained focused on ensuring that the people of Colorado receive safe, reliable and reasonably-priced utility services.