Southwestern Bell's quest to sell long-distance telephone service in Kansas won the blessing of state regulators Wednesday, moving the company closer to tapping into a growing sector of telecommunications.
The three-member Kansas Corporation Commission agreed to support the company's bid to branch into long-distance service. Southwestern Bell, which provides local telephone service in Lawrence, still needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission.
Company officials anticipate FCC approval by the end of the year.
"This is a great day for Kansas consumers," said Shawn McKenzie, president of Southwestern Bell-Kansas. "The KCC's decision means we are a giant step closer to bringing Kansans more choices and better values for all their telecommunications needs."
John Wine, KCC chairman, said during a hearing Wednesday that he looked forward to Southwestern Bell's offerings because they would increase competition in the state.
Commissioners said they were convinced that Southwestern Bell had sufficiently opened up its own local access lines to competitors a standard included in the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 and therefore deserved to be able to compete for long-distance business.
The company maintains that it has lost more than 160,000 access lines to competitors in the state.
Southwestern Bell, which has provided local phone service in Kansas for more than 115 years, wants to sell "simple, no gimmicks" long-distance service, McKenzie has said. The company's application in Kansas is similar to one approved earlier this year for Texas, where more than 500,000 customers have opted to connect into Southwestern Bell's long-distance offerings.
Texas customers have paid 9 cents a minute for long distance, with no monthly fee. Rosemary Foreman, a KCC spokesperson, said that commissioners reviewed a 14-point list of standards to ensure that Southwestern Bell had met standards outlined in the telecommunications act.
"The checklist is to assure that Bell has truly opened its system to allow competitive companies access to the marketplace," she said. "It appears it has done so."