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Local phone companies may begin to provide long distance service, under a compromise just reached by the committee resolving House and Senate amendments to the telecommunications bill. The provision is just the latest of many tortured steps in fashioning the sweeping telecom legislation that seeks to deregulate the telephone and cable industries and stimulate competition. "The theory is that your average subscriber will be happy because there will be more competition, so that will make the service better," says John Dickerson. "The problem is that while this is all being sorted out, some customers will probably suffer." A vote on the bill is expected sometime before Christmas, but Dickerson stresses that there is still quite a bit of wrangling to come over the exact wording of the final bill: "What this telecom bill is really doing is regulating the flow of information, and in a time of rapid technological change, that's an immense task."