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Taking note . . .
public affairs in the nation’s capital
by the editor of The Common Denominator
TELEPHONE UPDATE: Remember the telephone crisis of two weeks ago, when a last-minute extension of the city's three-year contract with telecommunications provider Verizon averted the threatened shutoff of the D.C. government's non-emergency phones? With the short-term extension due to expire and a new agreement not yet ready for the city council's approval, the Williams administration plans to ask the council to approve another short-term extension this week.
"We're not in jeopardy of losing our phone service," an aide to City Administrator Robert C. Bobb told The Common Denominator on May 12. However, the special discounted rates that Verizon previously offered the city are a thing of the past.
"It's going to be the tariff agreement, which is the higher rate. …It's quite a bit higher," Bobb aide Tara Dunlop said of the new telecommunications contract being prepared for council consideration, using normal rates that Verizon charges its commercial customers.
Dunlop said city officials are still trying to determine the duration and dollar amount of the new contract. Also to be determined is how the higher costs will affect both current fiscal year spending and the fiscal 2006 budget that the mayor and council are in the midst of trying to finalize for forwarding to Congress. Dunlop said the city paid about $25 million a year for voice and data services under the old discounted deal with Verizon, but added, "We don't have a dollar amount to share" – not even a comparison of old and new rates – under the new contract.
Verizon spokesman Harry J. Mitchell acknowledged "progress over the past two weeks" in negotiating "a new agreement with the District government … under tariff rates." He said his company is "working hard to resolve the issues associated with this account."
While the dispute with Verizon apparently has been defused, questions remain about how the Williams administration could have bungled its telecommunications contract so badly as to cause a crisis.
Verizon officials have readily detailed, even in an official filing with the D.C. Public Service Commission, the company's extensive efforts to contact D.C. government officials to resolve past disputes and to give early notice in February that the city's contract would not be renewed when it expired April 30. Verizon also took the D.C. government to court to try to compel city officials to provide evidence to back up their 2001 allegation that Verizon was overcharging the city for its services. Despite getting a favorable court ruling, ordering the government to release documents to Verizon under the Freedom of Information Act, Verizon claims the city still has never backed up the overcharge claims.
City officials have so far not offered a public explanation for why they failed, despite repeated attempts by the telecommunications company, to discuss the expiring agreement until about two weeks before its termination date.
Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator