Networx RFI issued

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Companies are welcome to comment on a proposed new telecommunications contract that the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service (FTS) is working on.

FTS officials today issued a request for information (RFI) on the developing Networx contract, meant to replace the FTS 2001 telecom pact, as well as contracts covering wireless and satellite services, said John Johnson, assistant commissioner of service development at FTS.

The request asks for comments within 30 days. FTS is still determining how Networx will work.

"This RFI is really the first of our formal dialogue with all the stakeholders regarding our approach," Johnson said today during a conference call with reporters. "It is our best thinking at the moment."

Networx will be divided into two components, he said. Networx Universal will apply to companies that provide services worldwide, and Networx Select will be for smaller companies with a limited reach. FTS officials expect to award Networx Universal in mid 2005, and Networx Select in early 2006, Johnson said.

Although the contract will replace expiring vehicles, it won't duplicate them, he said. It will be more performance-based and more flexible, to allow for emerging technologies and their impact on business processes, Johnson said.

"We have some activity that we've initiated to learn from lessons of the past," he said. "What we're talking about is discussions with regard to what we should expect from government and what we can expect from industry."

The dialogue will address changing technology, Johnson said. "It's very hard to predict where industry's going technologically," he added. "We want to have to have some agility as new technologies are introduced."

Telecom industry consultant Warren Suss applauded the technology service's deliberation.

"One of the problems with FTS 2001 was that some of the technical specifications were so narrowly written, so rigid, that industry was not able to comply with their standard, commercial off-the-shelf offerings," he said. "As a result, they had to spend a lot of money to get their equipment to meet the specs, or else push back against the government to get the government to back off."

However, Suss cautioned against defining requirements too broadly as well.

"There are some legitimate concerns for interoperability," he said. "If you allow a spec that's too loose, if you allow vendors too much leeway, you run into the possibility of having technical difficulties."

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