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Mississippi Issues: A lot at stake for C Spire, AT&T in state telecom contract

 

Mayo Flynt

 

 

Editor's note: The Mississippi Business Journal recently wrote an editorial supporting C Spire's winning bid for a large state telecommunications contract. AT&T is challenging that contract. Below is the MBJ's editorial and a response from the president of AT&T Mississippi. 

 

 

 

Mississippi Business Journal: C Spire has best interest of state at heart 

 

So, let's get this straight. 

 

There was a bid process for the procurement of the state's telecommunications services. C Spire outbid AT&T by a whopping $32 million. 

 

Now, AT&T is protesting the entire process that it has never had a problem with in the past. 

 

None of that seems to be in dispute. 

 

After multiple requests, Michele Blocker, the Chief Administrative Officer with the Mississippi Department of Technology Services confirmed that recently to the Mississippi Business Journal with the following short, concise statement. 

 

"On December 21, 2017, the MS Department of Information Technology Services (ITS) Board approved several awards relating to the State's procurement of telecommunications services. (More information on this procurement, RFP 5000, can be found at www.its.ms.gov.) One of these awards, Voice and Data Network Services, was made to CSPIRE. Subsequently, AT&T submitted a formal Protest challenging this award pursuant to ITS policies and procedures. This Protest is currently under consideration by the ITS Executive Director." 

 

ITS Executive Director Craig Oregon, however, in trying to fully respect the appeals process, would not comment on the process, the outcome or the protest as it has now been nearly four months since C Spire won the bid. 

 

We get that business is business and AT&T wants to keep the lucrative contract with the state, and we understand C Spire wants to take over what is loosely called the state's land line telecommunication contract. 

 

In a statement to FierceWireless, AT&T defends its position. 

 

"We have an historic commitment to building communications networks to serve Mississippi businesses, residents and government," AT&T explained in a statement to FierceWireless when questioned about the issue. "As a part of the normal contracting and bid process, we filed our concerns with the Department of Information Technology Services regarding the recent statewide technology RFP. While our bid fully met the specific, clearly identified requirements outlined in the RFP, we believe the selected bid does not. We appreciate this review by the department and look forward to their response." 

 

Yet, C Spire has won out in a process that AT&T never thought was problematic until it actually lost. 

 

C Spire has historically been the primary awardee or shared a significant portion of the contract for wireless but last year it was able to participate in the RFP process in which the state ITS selected the Mississippi-based company for most of the services to be provided to the state of Mississippi on the landline side. 

 

Considering the updated fiber lines and technology that C Spire has and will use for this contract, it should have beaten out AT&T even without outbidding by $32 million. 

 

But Mississippi gets the best of both worlds. Mississippi gets state-of-the-art technology and it gets it for $32 million less than AT&T would cost. Lord knows there are any number of projects in Mississippi that could use the $32 million it would save by having C Spire as its land line provider. 

 

It's a slam dunk, right? 

 

But AT&T, which is trying to protect the monopoly it has enjoyed for more than 100 years, has gummed up the process and now the state is dealing with a protracted protest process in which very little information is coming out. 

 

So, we wait. 

 

The state waits. Law enforcement waits. Education waits. 

 

In this instance, C Spire is the best choice for Mississippi and C Spire has the best interest of Mississippi at heart. 

 

 

 

Mayo Flynt: MBJ opinion wrong on ITS bid 

 

We are disappointed that the Mississippi Business Journal did not provide us the courtesy of hearing our point of view before taking a position against us in its recent Our View editorial. 

 

On behalf of the thousands of employees who are working each and every day to keep Mississippi's businesses and residents connected, and on behalf of the more than 4,000 retirees who call Mississippi home, we feel an obligation to rebut the unchallenged claims made by C-Spire and echoed by the MBJ. 

 

In questioning the legitimacy of AT&T's protest, the MBJ's editors claim to know what is in the best interests for Mississippi. Yet MBJ apparently never reviewed the original Request for Proposals from the Department of Information Technology Services (ITS). Nor did it review the bid proposals from C-Spire and AT&T. Nor did it review AT&T's protest. 

 

Had MBJ conducted a journalistic review of those documents, it would have learned that C-Spire's proposal failed to meet mandatory requirements imposed by the State. ITS expressly informed vendors that a failure to meet mandatory requirements would lead to an automatic disqualification from the bidding process. To illustrate, if a state agency seeks proposals for an air conditioning system and states that a central unit with ducts is a mandatory requirement, then a vendor who bids a patchwork collection of window units must be disqualified, even if that vendor's proposal is the lowest cost bid. 

 

In our protest, we are asking ITS to administer the rules as they were specified in the RFP. We are convinced C-Spire has not met, and cannot meet, some of the state's mandatory requirements. We've laid out our concerns in detail, and the experts at ITS are reviewing our claims. 

 

This is all in line with well-established Mississippi law - laws that ensure a fair and open state procurement process while also protecting the interests of tax payers. If we're wrong, and our challenge is unsuccessful, C-Spire should have nothing to worry about. But all the C-Spire arm-waving and histrionics suggest C-Spire knows it has big problems. 

 

Ultimately, our objective is to help the state ensure that, whatever bid it ultimately selects, it is getting the services it required in the RFP at a fair price. We believe our bid meets that goal, and C-Spire's bid does not.

 

 

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