Archive for Thursday, July 19, 2001

New telephone program put on hold

July 19, 2001

Eudora telephone customers looking for a new local program will have to experience some call waiting.

Any immediate plans to accept an agreement with a new local telephone carrier have been put on hold. Mayor Ron Conner said the city didn't have a set timeframe for deciding whether to accept a franchise agreement with Sunflower Broadband, Sunflower Cable's new telephone operation. He said the city would also see how customers responded to the test market in Lawrence.

Sunflower Broadband wants to offer Eudora telephone users something better than Southwestern Bell, provisioning manager Debra Schmidt said.

City attorney Jerry Cooley said he couldn't remember another telephone company besides Southwestern Bell asking to come in to Eudora. The city doesn't have to choose between local telephone carriers, he said, but it does have to have an agreement with the company.

"That provides for their use of public property and requires them to meet certain standards," Cooley said.

Sunflower would use existing cable lines to send the telephone signal. Although customers would need cable lines running to their home to use the phone service, they don't necessarily have to subscribe to cable television.

But doing so could save them a few bucks on the phone bill. Schmidt told the city council that the company hoped to offer discounts to telephone users subscribing to Sunflower's cable television and/or Internet connection.

"Because we have the opportunity to use the lines of Sunflower Cablevision, we can offer them a multiple service of voice, video and data," Schmidt said.

Sunflower is owned by the World Company, which also owns The Eudora News and other area newspapers.

Kansas University associate professor of journalism Max Utsler, who lives outside Eudora, said consumers aren't as skeptical of one company owning cable and telephone because they deal more with distribution of information than with content.

"I don't worry about that as much in the cable business as I do with the local news business," Utsler said.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was intended to increase competition in local telephone and cable, in part by bringing each into each other's business, Utsler said, but that hadn't happened.

"I think both thought it sounded like a good idea, and they stuck their toe in the water and decided maybe it wasn't such a good idea," he said. "What's happening in your area is no different than what's happening in other areas."

In a community like Eudora, bringing in competition could be even more difficult, he said.

"If we already have a restaurant, are you better off to open another restaurant or finding another business?" he said.

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