Let them all compete
The FTS 2001 contract is full of so many pleasers and teasers that it may
never really deliver what was promised: the latest and greatest networking
technology and services at rock-bottom prices.
In planning the follow-up to FTS 2000, the government had hoped to set
up a common contract that would truly usher in modern telecommunications
for federal users, with plenty of fast, advanced services and enough flexibility
for maneuvering in the fast-tracking telecom marketplace.
Instead, nearly nine months after the contract was awarded, many agencies
are not getting the services they desire, some are clinging to the old contract
and others are still trying to determine who is going to do the work involved
in switching from one network to another.
What's going on? For starters, outside of the legal reality that the
old contract is expiring, there doesn't seem to be a driv-ing economic incentive
for most agencies to take the plunge. The new prices are being offered under
the old contract. The new deal is not mandatory, so agencies are not actually
required to shift. And lastly, it is not a simple proposition to change
the government's entire telecom infrastructure in one fell swoop.
But what's at work may be more basic. The government has tried to create
a monolithic telecom contract during a storm of economic and technological
change. Long-distance prices in the open market are already dropping to
the vanishing point. That's the reason MCI WorldCom and Sprint are looking
to merge, which could further upset the FTS apple cart. To offer FTS winners
revenue guarantees in the midst of such change is to almost ensure that
there won't be money left for the bells and whistles that agencies most
desire in the contract.
Perhaps it's time the federal government got out of the business of
managing agency telecom services and instead worked out a way to let all
providers compete for agency voice and data business. Then agencies could
negotiate directly for what they want at a fair price, and service providers
wouldn't be lulled by terms that are a bit too sweet.