Call it phone tug-of-war

Call it phone tug-of-war

Thomas R. Temin

If I were President Clinton, I'd probably tell Dennis Fischer: 'I feel your pain.'

Fischer, the soon-to-depart commissioner of the Federal Technology Service at the General Services Administration, says he's fed up with the slow pace at which agencies are switching from FTS 2000 telecommunications contracts to FTS 2001 ones, and to new local comm contracts [GCN, March 6, Page 6].

Fischer blamed the incumbent contractors for tying up customers, although he didn't specifically name AT&T Corp., the biggest incumbent. Other telecom industry observers blame agency lethargy.

But you can't really blame an incumbent for trying to retain customers. After all, the FTS 2000 contracts don't expire until the end of the year, and the FTS 2001 contracts aren't mandatory.

No one likes to deal with telecom vendors. And the larger your organization, the more complicated the negotiations. Just because a contract or a salesman says you can get a particular rate doesn't mean you actually get it.

I was told in an AT&T store, when buying a wireless phone, that if I switched my residential service to AT&T I would get a rate of 7 cents per minute on long-distance calls. But the first bill charged me 26 cents per minute.

My wife went after them like a greyhound after a chase rabbit. But imagine having to verify this kind of thing for hundreds or thousands of lines and users in a federal agency.

Telecommunications is a cutthroat business, with vendors willing to do whatever it takes to get and keep customers. Who would not procrastinate when faced with forcing such competitors to cooperate while your agency switches from one to the other? Thanks to technology, switching vendors may not be the painstaking task it was a decade ago, but it's still an undertaking that carries the risk of service disruption.

But by all accounts, the faster that agencies get out from under FTS 2000, the more money they'll save. They have to swallow the switchover hairball eventually.

Fischer's frustration is understandable but partially misplaced. As a fee-for-service operation that now has an executive with the title of assistant commissioner for sales, FTS can't justifiably lash out at its own customers for foot-dragging. By all means, FTS should pressure incumbents to let go. But its customers must be persuaded to act, too.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@gcn.com

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