Georgia reassesses telecom project

Georgia Technology authority

Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue has formed a 15-member special task force to review the state's telecommunications outsourcing project, after two requests for bids failed to produce an acceptable competition.

The task force, led by G. Wayne Clough, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology, will have 60 days to present a written report on identifying a manageable and sustainable approach to the state's telecommunications needs.

According to a press release, the task force will analyze:

* Cost-effective alternatives for telecom services delivery and distributive computing services.

* Potential impact on economic development statewide.

* Balancing costs between urban and rural areas as well as the disparity of services between Atlanta's metropolitan area vs. the rest of the state.

* Enabling state and local governments to stay up on telecom advances without additional capital costs.

* Budget implications, costs and savings.

The original program, called the Converged Communications Outsourcing Project (CCOP), was estimated at $1.8 billion over 10 years.

A successful bidder would have taken over the state's telecom operations — including local, long-distance and wireless phone services as well as high-speed online access, video, two-way radio, local-area networks, and PC equipment and support — and constructed a state-of-the art communications network for the government and schools.

On Jan. 3, IBM Corp. withdrew its bid from the project, citing "uncertainties in the telecommunications industry and the economy," said Michael Clark, a spokesman for the Georgia Technology Authority.

That left only Georgia Connect, a consortium composed of BellSouth, AT&T and EDS. Although there's no legal impediment to awarding the project to the group, the governor wanted to reassess the state's approach, Clark said, adding that outsourcing is still a viable option.

"The governor is very interested in technology," he said. "Throughout his campaign he talked about making high-speed Internet access available in all Georgia counties to promote economic development and also as a way of addressing traffic congestion and air quality problems in areas such as Atlanta, making telecommuting a more realistic option."

The project was first launched approximately two years ago, but the state decided to rebid the contract after WorldCom Inc. became embroiled in an accounting scandal and state officials felt a competitive process no longer existed. It issued another request for proposals last August and set July 1, 2003, as the date a signed contract would take effect.

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