State ACS contract, local phone competition to mark '02

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
The Alaska telecommunications industry in 2002 will be marked by the launch of a five-year, $92.5 million contract to provide state government telecommunications services and other issues. The state signed the contract with Alaska Communications Systems in December, but a transition period precedes an April start date.

Also in the new year, General Communication Inc. plans to begin providing local telephone service in Juneau, an area previously served solely by ACS.

ACS will serve the state contract via an Internet protocol network that can handle voice, video and data, said Mary Ann Pease, ACS vice president of investor relations. The effort is one of the biggest projects for the company in 2002, she said.

"The state will be our anchor tenant" for the new network, she said.

"This is a state-of-the-art system. We’re the first to market in Alaska," Pease said.

The company projects capital spending in 2002 between $70 million to $80 million, most of which will be directed for the state contract, she said.

In the first year, ACS would spend $16.6 million to replace existing phones with new ones capable of handling voice, data and video services.

Other capital spending will fund the first stage of construction of a 2.5 gigabyte wireless technology system, she said.

In 2002 GCI plans to begin local phone service to Juneau, said David Morris, GCI public affairs manager. In summer 2001 the company started a similar service in Fairbanks.

During the new year GCI expects to negotiate an interconnection agreement with ACS to provide local service to 10 other communities including Homer, Kenai and Soldotna. Service could begin in 2003, company officials said.

GCI also anticipates offering its cable modem Internet product to more Alaska communities in 2002 and develop wireless Internet service in rural Alaska communities, Morris said.

A key issue for Alaska telecommunications will be decisions concerning a fiber-optic cable owned by WCI Cable, he said.

That company, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, operated a $165 million undersea fiber-optic cable between Whittier and Oregon and a cable between Whittier and Fairbanks.

Justice Department officials were reviewing GCI’s bid for the cable since the company already has its own undersea fiber-optic cable to the Lower 48.

Another major telecommunications player, AT&T Alascom, plans to begin service early in 2002 on an advanced data service known as frame relay/asynchronous transfer mode, said President Tom Posey. Such systems are now widely used in the Lower 48, although Alaska previously had not had a connection to those systems, he said.

The company already installed a switch for the system, and the first customers should be online in the first quarter, he said.

AT&T Alascom has noted an increase in requests for audio and video conferences since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Lori Eussen, business sales manager.

State regulators expect some changes in 2002, said Agnes Pitts, Regulatory Commission of Alaska spokeswoman.

One item new next year stems from a Federal Communications Commission ruling to allow Bush residents to use Internet access for schools and libraries during nonschool hours, she said.

The FCC granted a waiver Dec. 3 to the state’s part in a federal program that provides funds to eligible schools and libraries to reduce the cost of providing Internet services at those facilities.

12/30/2001 - 8:00pm