SSA taps MCI WorldCom for telecom services

The Social Security Administration last week announced that it had selected MCI WorldCom to provide its voice, data, Internet and conferencing services through the General Services Administration's FTS 2001 network. MCI estimated the eight-year deal to be worth $250 million.

SSA is the ninth major agency to select MCI to provide its FTS 2001 service and the third to do so last month, a company spokesman said.

Tony Bardo, director for civilian agencies at MCI WorldCom Government Markets, said SSA's selection was especially significant to MCI because of the agency's high-profile toll-free service. "It's an advanced network with a lot of options for callers," Bardo said of SSA's toll-free service. "And Social Security has a very public mission, so that will be a challenge to us."

Robert Meekins, chief of SSA's FTS management branch, said MCI offered a better overall proposal than Sprint, which is the other FTS 2001 vendor. He said MCI offered attractive pricing and impressive administrative support through its FTSNet online tool for order entry, network management, billing and other functions.

Bardo noted that MCI previously provided SSA's toll-free service through a three-year contract that the company won in 1988. The agency subsequently moved that traffic to the FTS 2000 contract held by AT&T, which will continue to handle the service until it can be moved to MCI's network.

MCI was selected by SSA in March to replace the agency's backbone data network of dedicated circuits with Asynchronous Transfer Mode connections, Bardo said. Last week's announcement awards to MCI all of SSA's requirements to provide data connections between its district offices and regional operating centers.

Meekins said MCI also will provide Internet connectivity to support the agency's World Wide Web operations and its intranet. He said SSA also is considering asking MCI to set up a backup World Wide Web site in case of problems with the agency's primary server.

SSA will begin moving some switched voice traffic onto MCI's network before the end of September but will stop all transition activities late that month when SSA's Year 2000 moratorium kicks in. Meekins said the agency will not introduce any new equipment or services to its network from late September through late March as part of an effort to mitigate potential Year 2000 difficulties.

SSA has not determined its cutover schedule for toll-free voice service yet, Meekins said.

Jim Payne, assistant vice president for FTS 2001 at Sprint, said his company has not given up on obtaining SSA's business. Given that the FTS 2001 contracts are nonmandatory, he said Sprint plans to continue its efforts to win the agency's toll-free service and frame-relay business.

"There is no commitment for eight years here," Payne said of SSA's deal with MCI. "They can change their service provider just as you can at home."

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