The $119 million contract awarded by the US General Services Administration to AT&T for the modernization of the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) communications infrastructure isn't focused on a specific technology. The contract, announced last week, is aimed at shepherding the organization forward in an era of rapid and constant change.
Federal agencies, like businesses, must make decisions on fundamental network issues, such as whether to transition to software-defined networking and network functions virtualization (SDN and NFV), and whether and what kind of unified communications platforms to employ. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) sees its mandate as helping the CDC, which declined to participate in this story, make the right choices regarding these technologies.
The CDC, which is part of the US Department of Health & Human Services, has an extensive footprint. AT&T says it supports the CDC on seven campuses totaling 77 buildings domestically. It also is involved in the CDC's international activities, which spans 225 countries.
"They have a large legacy base of infrastructure," said Michael Leff, VP-Civilian for AT&T's Global Public Sector Solutions. "This award is about how to position it to move toward strategic services. It is management of existing infrastructure and positions it for the transition, should [the CDC] opt to move toward strategic services such as unified communications."
Leff said that the deal, which builds on an existing relationship between the carrier and the CDC, does not include wireless or involve the CDC's WAN, which is handled by Verizon. An example of the tasks AT&T will perform under the "task order" contract is the transition of 18,000 voice lines to VoIP that was executed under the existing business arrangement. It is possible that the CDC will adopt smart city technologies -- Leff he offered smart lighting as an example -- on the campuses.
The CDC contract was awarded under the GSA's Connections II program, and such contracts involve a two-step process. The GSA approves a base contract and a pool of vendors. Subsequently, the department of the government that will use the equipment or services -- in this case, HHS -- chooses from those approved vendors. Connections II handles "last mile" activities. Core networking is contracted via the same process by a parallel program, Networx, which is being phased out in favor of Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) in 2020.
This is not the only public safety-related government contract that AT&T has recently won. In late March, AT&T and the Department of Commerce and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) announced that the carrier will build a dedicated broadband network for communications between police, firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS). The initiative is an effort to confront the chronic problem of poor public network performance during emergencies.
The deal dwarfs the CDC contract, and FirstNet will pay AT&T as much as $6.5 billion during the next five years and provide 20MHz of spectrum. AT&T, in turn, will spend about $40 billion on the network and more than $180 billion worth of connectivity to network assets.
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation