State seeks bid to privatize telecommunications system

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Bids are being accepted from companies that want to take over the state's $26 billion telecommunications program.

The plan calls for companies to work together to make the government's telecommunications more efficient and cost-effective.

A consortium of businesses would be created to run everything from the state's Internet services to phones and other communications systems, Gov. Tony Knowles said. And that should lead to improvements in the telecom-challenged Bush, he said.

''There are a lot of indications that the private sector is interested in partnering with the state,'' Knowles said. ''We're going to challenge them to see if they can do it cheaper.''

Privatizing telecommunications could result in the elimination of 42 state jobs, said Bob Poe, state commissioner of administration. The consortium and state would work together to keep employees, with some possibly working for the companies, he said.

''Most of these employees are information technology workers, and they're very valuable,'' he said.

The plan also affects 357 telecom vendors that hold contracts with the state worth about $21.5 million, Poe said.

Placing a consortium in charge of the government's telecommunications should reduce the bureaucracy of dealing with so many vendors because contracts would be consolidated into one, he said. Bids are expected in about three months.

The contract would cover telecommunications for the government's executive branch and parts of the university system, he said. The Legislature and court system could be included later.

The state's move to partner with industry is partly due to the massive growth of communications in Alaska. In the early days, Poe said, ''the state had to step up and build a lot of the infrastructure.''

But in recent years, companies have blanketed the state with telecommunications services, creating a much more competitive market. For instance, in the past three years, industry has spent more than $250 million laying fiber-optic cable statewide and undersea to better connect Alaska to the Lower 48.

''Telecommunications is becoming our transportation in Alaska,'' Poe said.

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