Sprint to offer toll-free features on FTS 2000

ATLANTA - Sprint last week unveiled some recent and upcoming modifications to its FTS 2000 contract that will offer users more sophisticated toll-free services and allow them to block caller-identification services.

Diana Philbrick a senior program manager for FTS 2000 at Sprint said the company will later this year offer interactive toll-free features a service sought by users at the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies. She said the service will allow the Veterans Benefits Administration to field more inquiries from veterans with less staff and facilitate the agency's business process re-engineering efforts.

"[The VBA is] trying to take more calls and respond to more questions with a limited number of people " Philbrick said. "With this service the veterans will be able to interact with information in host computers without interacting with a live body."

She said the service will permit the VBA to present callers with a menu of options to obtain information on educational benefits medical benefits and other areas of interest. The system would them prompt callers to enter personal data to access information on the status of benefits checks the location of the nearest VA office and other pertinent items.

Richard Culp director of the telecommunications staff at the VBA said the service is part of an effort to offer convenience to veterans. "We expect to provide additional opportunities for our customers to access our information services " he said. "This will expand our business hours so [veterans] can call at their convenience and get full access to their personal account information."

Culp added that the VBA is initially using the service on a limited basis within 13 states in the VA's central region. "We're doing it on a small scale to get good information on what our customers really require " he said.

Philbrick said Sprint plans to submit the modification proposal to the General Services Administration this summer. She said she expects GSA to approve the proposal before the end of the year.

Byron Morgan also a senior program manager for Sprint's FTS 2000 program said the company plans to submit this month another modification for toll-free call redirect services. The service cuts off connections initiated by calls to a central 800-number when those calls are forwarded to a regional call center. The process frees up circuits at the central site allowing additional calls to come in. The modification was requested by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. currently engaged in a pilot with Sprint to test the service.

Kenneth Oliver a telecommunications manager at PBGC said the service will support the agency's efforts to merge all of its 21 toll-free 800-numbers into one. He said the agency has established a customer service center in Washington D.C. that will use the service to direct calls to regional offices as necessary.

Modifications Approved

Early this month GSA approved a Sprint modification for automatic number identification (ANI) suppression a service the company provided strictly to the Justice Department two years ago but that has now been requested by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Courts. The service blocks caller ID services so parties contacted by the government cannot identify who is calling.

"A lot of attorneys and investigators at FTC need it because [ANI] was impeding the success of their investigations " Philbrick said. "So we've opened it up so other agencies can use it. So many people now have caller ID that this has become an issue for other agencies besides Justice."

In January Sprint completed a modification for pre-paid calling cards. Agencies including at least two assigned to AT&T's portion of FTS 2000 are now gearing up to purchase the cards.

Verna Gordon telecommunications specialist at the Immigration and Naturalization Service said her agency will purchase the cards for students training at INS academies who are away from home for six to eight weeks. Gordon said she conducted a study showing that the cards are a cost-effective option for agency personnel who are not regular travelers.

Jim Payne Sprint's assistant vice president for FTS 2000 acknowledged that the company has not proposed as many modifications to the contract as it had in previous years. "Too many times we've done modifications and found people weren't buying the services " he said. "I'm only interested in modifications people will buy off of."

An AT&T spokesman did not respond to a request for information on whether his company had modified its FTS 2000 contract to offer services similar to those proposed by Sprint.

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