FTS 2001 transition takes center stage

KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Not surprisingly, much of the discussion at the General Services Administration Federal Technology Service Network Services Conference '99 held here last week focused on the transition from the FTS 2000 long-distance telecommunications network to its successor, FTS 2001.

Hundreds of federal telecommunications workers flocked to the conference, eager to obtain as much information as possible to aid them in the transition. The FTS 2001 contracts were awarded last winter to Sprint and MCI WorldCom.

At a standing-room-only session on financial planning for the transition, GSA officials told agency representatives that GSA will assume all service initiation charges as well as charges for connecting users' networks to the FTS 2001 infrastructure.

GSA also will share the costs of upgrading an agency's service. For example, if an agency wanted to upgrade from dedicated transmission service (DTS) to frame relay, GSA would cover the cost of transitioning to FTS 2001 DTS, and the user would pay any remaining charges associated with frame relay.

John Johnson, the Defense Department's FTS 2001 transition manager, said at another session on the transition that he set up a Joint DOD FTS Transition Committee to guide the department through the process. The committee has selected MCI as its provider of switched-voice service, and Johnson said the department has policies in place to ensure that agencies use the MCI service when appropriate.

Johnson added that the committee this month will select an FTS 2001 vendor to provide frame-relay service, but committee members decided not to select a single vendor for DTS. "We wanted to have flexibility throughout the life of the contract," he said.

Meanwhile, AT&T Government Markets, the losing FTS 2001 bidder, is working hard to entice agencies to delay their move to the new network. At the conference, the company announced that it was eliminating volume-based pricing on its current FTS 2000 bridge contract—a move that will allow its customers to continue to get the same low long-distance rates regardless of how many other agencies abandon AT&T in favor of the FTS 2001 vendors.

Previously, pricing on FTS 2000 was based on volume, and prices would have increased as fewer users remained on the network. AT&T provides transmission services for about three-quarters of the traffic going across the FTS 2000 network.

The announcement followed AT&T's tariff filing the previous week that offered discounts on its FTS 2000 contract on a par with the savings promised by the FTS 2001 vendors. John Doherty, AT&T's vice president for FTS 2000 and civilian markets, said the new prices would save the government more than $95 million over the next year "without going through any transition" to a new vendor.

Doherty said he hopes the announcement will slow agencies' plans to move off AT&T's network. "A number of our customers were pleased [at the announcement]," Doherty said. "Now there isn't this sense of panic that if you're not the first one out the door, you're going to be left holding the bag."

Frank Lalley, assistant commissioner for service delivery at FTS, confirmed that GSA was evaluating AT&T's proposal. He said the evaluation was "just procedural" and indicated that AT&T's contract modification would be approved by the agency. He added that GSA had not calculated the savings it would obtain through AT&T's lower rates but said that AT&T's $95 million estimate "seems in the ballpark."

The announcement came too late to dissuade the Environmental Protection Agency from announcing at the conference that it had selected Sprint to provide voice and data services under the FTS 2001 contract.George Kranich, chief of telecommunications services at EPA headquarters, said the agency received good proposals from both of the FTS 2001 vendors, but Sprint's was more suited to the agency's data requirements.

Kranich noted that the EPA was in the midst of planning a general reorganization of its information management structure. He said Sprint's proposal was "a better fit for the environment we want to operate currently and in the future." He added that Sprint's prices also were superior to MCI's.

Jim Payne, assistant vice president for FTS 2000 at Sprint, said he believed the EPA selected his company on the basis of its forward-thinking philosophy and its data services offerings for frame relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode.

Kranich said he hopes to begin moving voice traffic—now running on AT&T's FTS 2000 network—onto Sprint's network in July. He said the EPA would work with Sprint and GSA to determine when data services, which includes the EPA's supercomputer network as well as its administrative traffic, will make the transition.

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