West Virginia preps bid for telecom future

West Virginia's state government has begun to explore ways to upgrade its

statewide network to handle the anticipated increase in voice, data and

video traffic, as well as support the upcoming wave of e-government services.

Chief Information Officer Keith Comstock called the current fiber-optic

network, which is based on Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology,

"outstanding" and added that state agencies, courts and public school education

systems are sharing the same network. But "when you do long-range planning

and you look at our requirements for data, [it's] growing at an exponential

rate. Our network is not growing at the same curve," said Comstock, who

heads the Governor's Office of Technology (www.wvgot.org). "What we feel

is if we don't make this move...we're basically going to reach a bottleneck

at some point."

State officials hope a new network that uses Internet Protocol will

facilitate better e-government. The state recently unveiled an e-government

report outlining plans for more online services through an integrated portal.

"If we're really going to do e-government and put all our services online...we've

got to build the electronic roads to get them to it," he said.

West Virginia has issued a request for information from telecommunications

vendors for a network that could include wireless and satellite solutions.

Responses are due by June 20. Also next month, the GOT is planning to hold

an informational hearing on the plan at the Charleston Civic Center as well

as several more meetings with vendors throughout the summer.

Comstock said he fully expected several companies — including Verizon,

which is the main telecommunications provider in the state — to band together

and bid on an eventual proposal. He also expected the contract to be worth

hundreds of millions of dollars although he said he's not sure about the

cost.

The state would give up managing the network because it's not something

the state should be doing anyway, said Comstock. State government, which

has 35,000 employees, would be the anchor tenant of the new network, which

would be extended to all municipal governments and other public-sector organizations

at rates negotiated by the state, he said.

The state plans to issue a draft request for proposals for comment and

then an actual RFP by fall. A contract could be awarded as early as January,

but probably by next summer, Comstock said.

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