Bell Atlantic Wins WITS Shootout

Bell Atlantic Wins WITS Shootout<@VM>Bell Atlantic Corp.

Barbara Connor

By Jennifer Freer, Staff Writer


And the winner is Bell Atlantic ... at least for one year.

After months of anticipation, the General Services Administration awarded its hefty Washington Interagency Telecommunications System contract to Bell Atlantic Corp. of New York.

Valued at $1.4 billion over the next eight years, the WITS2001 contract covers the broadest range of telecommunications services and equipment ever combined in a single GSA contract vehicle, government officials said.

Bell Atlantic bested WinStar Communications Inc., New York, for the contract to provide a broad range of voice and data local telecommunications services to federal agencies in the Washington metropolitan area.

The award, originally expected in late 1999, caps an acquisition process that began more three years ago.

"We had the existing contract," said Jim Glowacki, the WITS2001 general manager for Bell Atlantic Federal. But with the increasing competition the company now faces, he said, "continuing this contract was paramount to Bell Atlantic Federal's line of business survival."

Bell Atlantic won the original WITS contract in 1989, when the company was known as C&P Telephone.

Under the WITS2001 contract, Bell Atlantic Federal will offer federal agencies throughout the Washington area voice and circuit-switched data services carried over from its current contract, as well as expanded dedicated transmission service, frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode data services, voice and video teleconferencing, and Internet access.

The WITS2001 contract also offers flexibility to government users in the form of Web-based service ordering and flexible billing options. It also allows government agencies to tailor their use of the contract to their specific ordering and management practices, government officials said at a Jan. 27 press briefing.

In addition, the contract allows GSA to accept offers from other federal telecommunications providers to deliver competing services in the WITS2001 serving area after a one-year forbearance period. Those service providers must hold either a Metropolitan Area Acquisition contract from GSA or one of the agency's FTS2001 contracts.

Currently, just AT&T Corp., Basking Ridge, N.J., holds an MAA contract; MCI WorldCom Inc., Clinton, Miss., and Sprint Corp., Westwood, Kan., hold FTS2001 contracts.

The WITS2001 contract also will help GSA transition from a government-owned and operated network to a purely commercial network.

Dennis Fischer, commissioner of GSA's Federal Technology Service, the GSA unit that is managing the contract, said the WITS2001 effort is vital to the GSA and its many customers. "The government runs on many things, and one main thing is the ability to communicate," he said.

Customer agencies must "have the best way to communicate with the government, and the flagship of the government is in Washington. So, having a world-class communications system here in Washington is doubly important. This is a big piece of business," Fischer said.

For one thing, the WITS 2001 contract covers 180,000 federal access lines, company and government officials said. By contrast, the MAA contract recently awarded to AT&T Corp., New York, covers only 25,000 federal access lines.

Did Bell Atlantic's incumbent role give it a leg up in the competition? Bell Atlantic and GSA officials said no. But Bell Atlantic already had the infrastructure in place, which offers a distinct financial advantage, industry sources said.

"No matter what program it is, an infrastructure in place helps the incumbent," said MaryAnn Hirsch, senior vice president of consulting at Federal Sources Inc. a McLean, Va.-based market research firm. "In theory, other companies should be able to compete. But in actuality, when an incumbent has infrastructure and resources, there is a price to be paid by competitors."

Officials with WinStar, which is building and extending a broadband network of fixed wireless spectrum, using rooftop antennas and long-haul fiber, said they could not comment on the contract award until they had been debriefed by government officials.

The company, a competitive local exchange carrier, likely jumped into the competition because it is aggressively seeking new business in both the government and commercial arenas, industry sources said.

Other regional telephone companies, such as BellSouth and Ameritech, probably chose to sit out this contest since they would have had to invest millions of dollars to build new networks in the Washington area, industry observers said.

Current users of the original WITS contract include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. Others are the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and smaller agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board and the National Science Foundation.

But Fischer plans to aggressively grow the contract and convince agencies that are not using it to switch over.

In the meantime, the GSA is doing switching of its own.

"The government can't afford all the investments to keep the network up to date," Fischer said. Technology is advancing so quickly that the government must "buy a service and let the private sector make the technology investment, then let the marketplace drive that technology service forward," he said.

The WITS effort has come a long way over the last 10 years, reflecting the government's growing requirements. The original contract in 1989 covered only voice service.

"This contract is much different," said Barbara Connor, president of Bell Atlantic Federal. "The GSA recognized the evolution of telecommunications and incorporated other services into WITS2001."

Voice, video and data services will be integrated for all federal government local communications under the new contract, Glowacki said. Federal agencies also will be able to take advantage of online ordering as well as Bell Atlantic's recently introduced Service@once automated telecommunications management and consolidated billing system, Glowacki said.

With decreasing government budgets, the agencies must "be a lot smarter," Glowacki said. The government is looking at voice over IP technology, and its requirements are going to increase bandwidth demand.

"Telecom and IT are going to be the way to do it, and WITS allows Bell Atlantic to be the network integrator," he said. Business: Second largest local phone company in the United States. Its government unit, Bell Atlantic Federal, provides the federal government with information technology solutions in infrastructure capabilities, professional services, switching and voice processing, network integration and management, transport services and applications.



Location: New York

Chairman and CEO: Ivan Seidenberg

Employees: About 140,000

1999 Revenue: $33.2 billion

1999 Net Earnings: $4.2 billion

Ticker: BEL on New York Stock Exchange

Web Site: www.ba.com

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