A new federal telecommunications law could increase residential telephone rates.
Telephone and cable TV officials are still a little unsure what the new federal telecommunication legislation signed into law Thursday means.
But they indicate that there will be a merging of their two industries in the near future.
One of the results will be that consumers will eventually be able to get all of their telephone, Internet, video and home entertainment from one provider.
"There will be a lot of changes," said Larry Pfautsch, a representative for Southwestern Bell. "Most of them over a period of time. And those will be generally more choice in who you want to provide a particular telecommunications service."
Other changes are more immediate. In Lawrence, for example, Southwestern Bell Mobile System customers will be able to get both local and long distance service from Southwestern Bell, at a flat rate and on one bill.
Telephone companies and cable TV companies will be getting into each other's businesses.
Southwestern Bell will eventually be able to offer its customers a very strong package of services, Pfautsch said.
"And they will be able to get all of those services at one competitive rate rather than going to multiple vendors," he said.
Dennis Knipfer, general manager of Sunflower Cablevision, Lawrence's cable TV provider, said "I don't know that we'll see any immediate changes.
"Our intent is to continue the tradition of good service at a reasonable price," he said. "Historically, we've been below what any regulation would allow us to charge had we been subject to regulation."
Knipfer said the company is experimenting with its ability to transmit computer data, such as the Internet, over the cable system.
Rob Marshall, a Lawrence man who is executive director of the Mid-American Cable TV Assn., also predicts change.
"We'll probably see some changes because the legislation will open up the video and the local and the long-distance markets to all competition," he said. "And so consumers will have more providers and probably better products, and they'll get those at lower prices.
"In the long run, it's going to make things a lot more convenient for the consumer."
The new law isn't being greeted wholeheartedly by everyone.
Poor people in urban areas and those who live in rural areas could see higher telephone rates in the rush by new communication firms to "cherry-pick" the most lucrative contracts, said Carl Krehbiel, representative for the Kansas Telecommunications Coalition.
"It's probably likely there will be reductions of rates for the business customers," Krehbiel said. "But there may be an increase in rates in residential customers. That's something we do not want to see happen."
Krehbiel's coalition represents 36 Kansas local exchange telephone companies. He said they are supporting state legislation that would minimize that effect on the state's residential customers.