AT&T disconnects vintage net service

AT&T officials told agencies last month that the company will no longer offer a 20-year-old packet-switching telecommunications service to federal users of the FTS 2000 contract and will not upgrade the existing service for Year 2000 compliance.

A spokeswoman for AT&T Government Markets said the company was "never a dominant player" in the X.25 market, and it has decided to stop offering the service. She said AT&T will instead offer federal X.25 users incentives to switch to its frame-relay service or its Off-Site Access to Servers and Intranet Solutions (OASIS) package for high-speed access to agency local-area network resources.

Agencies using AT&T's X.25 service will have to switch within a year because the service will no longer operate after 2000. "We are not using that platform anymore, so obviously there is no point in upgrading for Year 2000 compliance," the spokeswoman said.

X.25, a packet-service technology that became popular in the late 1970s and was later overtaken by more advanced technologies such as frame relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode, is used predominantly by agencies that have a substantial number of remote sites.

Bill Toker, director of operations at the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service, said users include the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Toker said X.25 users represent a relatively small percentage of the FTS 2000 user community, although he said some small offices rely heavily on the service.

"It's a service that many of the agencies have already moved away from, but there are some fairly substantial applications on it," Toker said.

Arnold Bresnick, associate chief information officer for policy at the USDA, said his agency runs more than 1,000 X.25 circuits throughout all its bureaus and offices.

"Clearly it's a concern because it forces us to decide on alternative means of service and to develop a time line for that," Bresnick said of AT&T's announcement. "This doesn't strike me as an emergency, but we are proceeding with all due speed."

AT&T officials said at a meeting with X.25 users last month that it was prepared to waive installation charges for agencies that switch to frame relay or OASIS.

Toker said a representative from Sprint, which also holds an FTS 2000 contract, also attended the meeting and told users his company will continue to offer X.25 service. Users of AT&T's X.25 will be allowed to migrate to Sprint's X.25 service, and Sprint also will waive installation charges, Toker said.

Jim Payne, Sprint's assistant vice president for FTS 2000, said the government operates X.25 installations mostly in areas in which digital facilities are unavailable. "These agencies have had the rug pulled out from under them," Payne said. "We think we are going to book every piece of business that AT&T has left on the floor. We are supporting X.25 through the Year 2000 and beyond."

X.25 will be a mandatory service on FTS 2001, the follow-on to the existing contracts that is scheduled to be awarded later this month, Toker said. AT&T will have to offer the service— apparently through a subcontractor— if it wins an FTS 2001 contract. Bresnick said he has not yet decided how the USDA should respond to AT&T's announcement. He said it may behoove the agency to wait and see the results of the FTS 2001 contract awards.

"It's a little puzzling at this point because even though AT&T is saying they are pulling out of X.25, it is a mandatory requirement in FTS 2001," Bresnick said. "If AT&T is a viable bidder, then it will have to provide X.25 service. So I think it's premature to take any action."

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