Alaska Plans Statewide Telecom Program

Alaska, which spends more than $26 million annually on telecommunications products and services, plans to replace a hodgepodge of contracts with a single statewide telecom program.

Traditionally, Alaska has bought telecommunications in piecemeal, awarding individual contracts for frame-relay, local telephone and other services, said Karen Morgan, deputy director for communications services in Alaska's Information Technology Group. Now, the state is managing a half-dozen major contracts and many more smaller ones, she said.

Through the Telecommunications Partnering program, the state wants to tap one contractor or a group of contractors to take lead responsibility for end-to-end connectivity. That approach will simplify the management of its telecommunications services because the state can hold one vendor accountable for fixing any problems.

The state wants to give its agencies access to the latest telecommunications services, Morgan said. Key areas of interest include emerging "convergence" technology for sending voice communications via IP-based networks and for merging voice and data on high-speed Asynchronous Transfer Mode networks.

The state also is looking for its contractor to find ways to take advantage of its extensive microwave-based communications system. That system, called the State of Alaska Telecommunications System (SATS), provides network services in areas that do not have access to network lines.

The contractor, while running SATS for government agencies, will be able to make it available for commercial services, such as cellular phone service or a paging network, with the state and the contractor splitting the revenue.

The Telecommunications Partnering program is drawing interest from top state officials. Because Alaska does not have a highway system that reaches all corners of the state, "telecommunications is really important for delivering services," said Bob Poe, commissioner of Alaska's Department of Administration.

Alaska expects to take advantage of recently increased competition in the state, a result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated the telecommunications market.

The competition in Alaska's local telecommunications market has heated up even more since 1996. Initially, under the Telecommunications Act, only the Anchorage area was deemed large enough to open its market for competition, Morgan said. But the Regulatory Commission of Alaska recently ruled that several other regions, including Fairbanks and Juneau, should open up as well.

Alaska last month announced its intent to award a contract to consulting firm Gartner Group Inc. to help the state develop a request for proposals.

Pending the resolution of a protest by another firm, Gartner Group will assist the state with developing an RFP for release in spring 2000.

A key task will be interviewing state agencies about their telecommunications requirements. That involves not only identifying agencies' present needs, "but trying to get a good handle on where they see themselves going in the future," Morgan said.

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