MAA telecom transition begins to pick up steam

MAA telecom transition begins to pick up steam

34 contracts signed and four cutovers under way'FTS officials say savings could exceed 50 percent

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The General Services Administration's Metropolitan Area Acquisition program for local telecommunications has expanded to a total of 34 contracts worth an estimated $3.7 billion in 18 cities.

FTS officials are 'beyond pleased' with the program's success, Margaret Binns says.

Most recently, GSA awarded contracts to Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver to provide service to federal users in Albuquerque, N.M., and Boise, Idaho.

The latest contracts are worth an estimated $143 million over eight years. The Albuquerque contract is worth an estimated $102 million. Users could see savings of more than $19 million, a 37 percent decrease from current government rates. The Boise contract is worth an estimated $41 million, saving as much as $6.5 million.

GSA soon plans to award two more contracts'for New Orleans and Philadelphia'and will announce the next eight MAA cities by the end of this month, said Margaret Binns of GSA's Federal Technology Service, which manages the MAA contracts.

'We've learned how to do those suckers fast,' Binns said.

As assistant commissioner for regional services, Binns' job begins after the contracts are awarded'and sometimes there are complications.

'We're helping to figure out how to make deregulation work,' she said. 'The next couple of years are going to be difficult.'

The good so far outweighs the bad, she said of the massive job of moving hundreds of thousands of federal telephone lines to the new MAA contracts.

'We certainly have had some challenges,' Binns said, 'but we're beyond pleased with the success of the program.'

Not too shabby

So far, the program has met three goals:

• It has achieved potential savings of at least 50 percent for government users.

• The program has increased competition for local service. WinStar Communications Inc. of New York came from nowhere to win 11 contracts in four months. Southwestern Bell Telephone in July became the first Baby Bell to hold a contract outside its home service area when it won a Boston MAA.

• FTS is prepared to roll out nationwide service packages to agencies with far-flung operations such as the Postal Service and Social Security Administration.

Transitions are well under way in four cities where contracts were awarded in February and March. Cincinnati should be finished by November, Binns said, and Buffalo, N.Y., will be 75 percent complete by December. Cleveland will be more than half-finished by year's end and Baltimore is half-done.

On the downside, the MAA contracts are at the bleeding edge of telecom deregulation. Federal Communications Commission language regarding competitors' access rights to local infrastructure is subject to interpretation by local public-utility commissions, which can result in complications.

In the first such complication, the rollout of service in New York stalled when state officials ruled that riser cabling inside buildings was owned by Bell Atlantic Corp., now Verizon Communications Inc.

'This has only come up in New York so far,' said John Doherty, vice president of government markets for AT&T Corp., which won the MAA contract for the city. He said AT&T is finalizing agreements with Verizon for use of the riser cable.

Even when there are no direct conflicts with incumbent local carriers, MAA contractors that use regional Bell operating companies' infrastructures are constrained by schedules for making RBOC facilities available.

'Competitors can't ignore those schedules or expect the local companies to rush,' Binns said. 'It's certainly not in their best interest to move the time frame up, especially when they're losing business.'

WinStar, which uses wireless links to connect its customer buildings to its own fiber-optic metropolitan area networks, bypasses the local carrier infrastructure. 'We are entirely independent back to our central office switching structure,' said Jerry W. Hogge, vice president of WinStar government solutions.

FTS has given WinStar the OK to proceed in seven cities. Baltimore customers are using the first WinStar dial tone, and 'we have a plan of attack in Cincinnati,' Hogge said. About 5,800 lines are going through fair consideration'GSA's process for deciding between providers on multiple-award contracts'in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis.

Challenges to AT&T delayed transitions in the first three MAA cities: Chicago, New York and San Francisco. But AT&T, which has won nine contracts, has begun cutting over users in those cities. Even so, AT&T's Doherty said he wants the transition speeded up.

The timetable established by the contracts is not too flexible. For each city, FTS needs time to establish clear lines of responsibility between Washington headquarters and regional offices. Contractors make their own plans, and the regional Bell operating companies, which own the infrastructures and had most of the previous GSA contracts for local service, set their own schedules, too.

It can take up to nine months from award before a company begins cutting users over.

Binns said FTS wants to keep the transitions moving, too. The agency provides local phone service on about 500,000 lines now and intends to use the MAA program to expand its own customer base.

'Our real objective is to double our business in two years,' Binns said.

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