Alaska set to bolster telecom

Alaska's Telecommunications Partnering Plan

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Following a 15-month-long process, Alaska is poised to award a multimillion-dollar contract that will significantly upgrade the state's communications infrastructure and bolster network security.

Barring any significant issues raised by other vendors, Anchorage-based Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. (ACS) would get the five-year contract worth about $18.5 million annually, said Larry Walsh, director of Alaska's Information Technology Group.

"I think for Alaska, because of our geography and number of citizens that live in locations that are off the beaten path, telecommunications is probably more important than maybe in other locations," he said.

Alaska (www.state.ak.us) acting as an "anchor tenant" will result in an improved telecommunications infrastructure for state offices in "bush" regions, Walsh said, adding that the upgrades will help underserved areas and will address rural connectivity.

Under terms of the contract, state benefits include:

* Flexibility to "leapfrog" to state-of-the-art technology, including a converged voice, data and video network.

* Enhanced videoconferencing.

* Improved bandwidth for state offices throughout urban and rural regions.

* Better statewide mobile communications, including wireless phone and satellite phone services.

* Reduced long-distance toll costs within the state.

* Vendor maintenance of the 231 state-owned microwave and satellite Earth stations that are used for emergency communications and broadcast TV and radio services.

* Enhanced network security to prevent hacker attacks. Walsh said security has become a major issue for Alaska especially after increased network intrusions, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and several damaging computer viruses and worms that circulated this year.

"I think we recognize how important the Internet is and the connectivity and how much those kind of performance issues can impact our ability to serve and deliver our mission," Walsh said.

State officials estimate the state likely will save nearly $13 million in operating costs during the five-year period. Additionally, ACS will provide another $29 million in capital investments to the state's telecommunications infrastructure.

The University of Alaska, the state legislature and the courts are participating in the upgrade to some degree. And Walsh said local municipalities have the option to join down the road, receiving benefits such as discount toll rates and lower costs.

The state, which issued its request for proposals in August 2000, announced its notice of intent to award the contract to ACS Nov. 15. Vendors have until Dec. 7 to file a protest.

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