Harvest time

Network vendors ready to reap tasks under huge telecommunications contract

The three Networx Universal vendors have cleared the final hurdles, and AT&T Inc. has already signed a major deal under the new telecommunications contract, ushering in a new age of federal telecom.

The companies have completed operation systems support testing and received formal notices to proceed from the General Services Administration for Networx Universal, giving them a green light to begin filling orders.

In September, AT&T announced that the Treasury Department had picked the company to provide services under a $270 million task order.

Treasury spent several years trying to establish its own telecom contract, called Treasury Communications Enterprise, and awarded AT&T that contract in 2004 before dropping it under the weight of protests.

The award boosted the confidence of AT&T, but it is only the first fruits of the massive Networx program, said Don Herring, senior vice president at AT&T Government Solutions. A Homeland Security Department request for proposals is circulating now and may lead to the next major score for one of the Networx Universal contract holders, he said.

DHS' project will establish OneNet, an intranet for sensitive-but-unclassified information. The agency plans to pick one of the three Universal contractors as a primary provider and another as a secondary provider.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is leading the OneNet effort. The providers will combine multiple wide-area networks into a common IP network based on Multiprotocol Label Switching.

Treasury and DHS started with large, sweeping projects, Herring said. "As time passes, we'll see more quantity" but smaller orders.

GSA awarded Networx Universal to AT&T, Verizon Inc. and Qwest Communications International Inc. in March. Networx Universal has 37 mandatory services and
11 optional ones, and it requires contractors to provide services to federal offices worldwide.

Networx Enterprise, the other contract under the Networx umbrella, went in May to those three companies along with Sprint Nextel Corp. and Level 3 Communications Inc.

The companies' task for the next few years is to help agencies move their services from FTS 2001 and other expiring contracts to Networx, said Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager at Qwest Government Services. The key question for agencies is whether they want to take the opportunity to upgrade their technologies and services.

She advises them to transform their communications systems, but some agencies may prefer to stick with what they have as much as they can for now. "If agencies feel it's safer for them, we'll certainly help them do that," she said.

That's a theme for AT&T, too, Herring said. "Some will transition like-for-like services, but others are trying to think about, 'This first step I take on Networx, is this in concert with what I want to do over the next five years?' That takes a little longer."

Capturing business is a primary concern for the vendors right now, said Susan Zeleniak, vice president at Verizon Federal, an organization within Verizon Business dedicated to serving federal customers.

"We started that right after we got our contract," she said. "We have a specific plan in line for every agency. The next 12 months are going to be incredibly busy."
The Networx awards changed the telecom landscape in the federal market to an extent, analysts say.

Sprint, holder of a prime contract on FTS 2001, did not get a spot on Networx Universal.

Agencies that use Sprint for broad network communications needs may have to choose between using the smaller Enterprise contract to procure the company's services or switching providers.

AT&T had been a prime contractor on FTS 2000 but didn't get a spot on FTS 2001. The company is now back as a major contract holder.

And Qwest, which has slowly built a government business and tried to shed its image as a regional provider, is a new option for some agencies.

The companies are still working toward getting a similar green light on Networx Enterprise.

Associate Editor Michael Hardy can be reached at mhardy@1105govinfo.com.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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