Sunday, September 6, 2015

Does the public have a right to see AT&T's state contract?

AT&T is trying to keep its state contract secret.  Cspire argues the public should be able to see the contract and presto, a court fight broke out Wednesday.  The Geoff Pender reported in the Clarion-Ledger:

Details of the state’s multi-million dollar, 12-year deal with BellSouth/AT&T for landline and internet service have been secret since 2006, when a Hinds County judge issued a protective order.

But competitor Cellular South Inc./C Spire says contract and transparency reform passed by the Legislature this year should prompt the release of BellSouth’s pricing and other details to allow fair competition for a new contract in late 2017 or early 2018. Cellular South currently holds the state contract for wireless phone service.

The stakes are high. One state official estimated the BellSouth contract is worth more than $30 million a year, counting local governments piggybacking on the state’s contract.

The two squared off in Hinds County Chancery Court on Wednesday and are awaiting a judge’s ruling.

Cellular South attorney Sheldon Alston said that after recent corruption scandals such as the state Department of Corrections contract bribery case, the Legislature “said to shine a light” on state contracts. He noted Cellular South’s contract with the state for wireless service, including detailed pricing, is available online at the state’s Department of Information and Technology Services website. A state official estimated Cellular South’s wireless contract is worth about $13 million a year, counting local governments piggybacking on that contract.

“We are a competitor and want to compete against (BellSouth) in 2018,” Alston said. “We think it’s in the best interest of the taxpayer for there to be fair competition.”

But BellSouth attorney Jack Crawford argued: “(Alston) admits they’re trying to get our confidential info for a competitive advantage. They’re saying that because the Legislature amended a law in 2015, they should be able to get our 2005 contract.” (KF: note to Crawford: that is the very nature of competitive bidding.)

Alston said: “We’re not asking for a competitive advantage. We’re trying to stop a competitive advantage and level the playing field.”

Cellular South is asking Judge William Singletary to revoke his 2006 order. It was issued after competing companies back then attempted to get copies of pricing and other info BellSouth submitted for the state’s request for proposals for phone and internet service. At the time, the state’s open records law allowed records containing a company’s trade secrets or confidential commercial or financial information to be sealed if they obtained a court order.

But in passing contract and transparency reform this year, the Legislature amended the law. It said provisions of a state contract that contain the commodities or services purchased, the price to be paid and the term of the contract “shall not be deemed to be a trade secret or confidential commercial or financial information” and shall be open to the public.

Lawmakers this year also amended the law to specify ITS contracts. It says: “Contracts … that are awarded or executed by any state agency, including, but not limited to, the Department of Information Technology Services, and the Department of Transportation, shall not be exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983.

BellSouth said the new law isn’t retroactive, and would only apply to contracts after July 1 of this year. But Cellular South says the contract is in effect – and appears to have been frequently changed and then extended without any competitive process – and should be open. Both point to case law for their arguments........

Alston questioned the BellSouth contract appearing to change over time in prices and services and equipment offered, and it being extended from a 10-year to a 12-year deal without any competitive process. He said no one knows if this is kosher to the original contract, “because we can’t see it.”

Ainsworth said: “We would only do contract amendments or renewals for scope and extended terms that were forecasted in the original RFP.”

Local governments who wish to avoid the RFP or bidding process can purchase service and equipment from the state’s BellSouth contract.

Some Mississippi school district technology coordinators, participating in the “E-Rate” federal program to provide telecom and internet access to schools, have complained about the state’s BellSouth contract. They aired some of these complaints to the Federal Communications Commission.

They questioned the contract being extended without competition, and say that while most districts have opted to use the state’s contract, many of those who held competition received lower prices than from the state contract. They also questioned the state having a 12-year long contract for services in a field like telecommunications that changes rapidly with technology, prices and competition. Rest of article.


Anonymous said...

Sure smells fishy. Good luck CSpire. Go get em

Anonymous said...

That's interesting. C-Spire demands that all political subdivisions enter into a Non-Disclosure Agreement before C-Spire will even discuss high speed internet services. In other words, C-Spire demands the same level of secrecy as AT&T. Forgive me if I fail to see C-Spire's posture as anything other than naked corporate aggression for greater market share. C-Spire should not be allowed to fool anyone. They are AT&T, Jr, and they get WAY too much credit for being a "Mississippi Company." C-Spire has about 3,000 Mississippi resident employees. AT&T has over 4,000 Mississippi resident employees. Are you listening, legislature?

Anonymous said...

Nice try, @4:00, but you're comparing apples and oranges (and not very well). The state is spending taxpayers' money buying services from AT&T and the public doesn't know how much the services cost. Remember when the Pentagon was buying $800 hammers back in the 80s and 90s? That's like this. Unless you have some kind of information that cities are somehow paying C Spire to enter franchise agreements with them, your comparison fails. Even if that did happen (and there's no way that's the case in reality) the franchise agreement would be a public document. A better comparison would be DMR buying boats under a secret contract, or MDOC buying commissary services under a secret contract. Nothing shady could possibly happen there, right?

Anonymous said...

Calm down, Mayo!

Anonymous said...

Come on Mayo, .... Show the contract !

Anonymous said...

If everyone knows all the facts the prices will go up dramatically!

Some of the best deals get done in secret and in a hurry!

JimAtTheRez said...

It is taxpayer money. Yes, the public has a right to know. Bid it, and the lowest bidder get the contract, be it ATT or C Spire. Kudos to C Spire for this. Open the records!

Anonymous said...

I'll have whatever 6:24 is drinking, but only half as much - I don't want to, you know, embarrass myself by saying something stupid in public.

They're Both Stupid said...

If Rudy were a little smarter, I'd swear he might be involved. But he's stupid, so he's not involved. And John Bell might be involved but he can't even program his phone. And he's stupid, so he's not either. So, let's just go ahead and dismiss this angle of the conspiracy right off the bat before it gets out there.

Anonymous said...

6:24, I don't think markets work the way you think they do.

Anonymous said...

Does Legislature have the right to hide its records from the public? What say you Tater and Feelip?

One Call said...

Why do you experts think this would have been done without the advice and recommendation of a cadre' of attorneys?

Anonymous said...

ITS has been "amending" RFP 4000 for years. They add new services to the contract as technology evolves and ITS resells the services to the agencies at a markup. They say the agencies are receiving a good deal, but having been in the tech business for some time I can tell you this is not the case. For instance Internet service was being sold by ITS to the agencies at a per megabyte rate of $18/meg and the market price was about $12. I have personally seen this time and time again... This is in no way in the best interest of the tax payer. Also, I wonder if the court is aware of the AT&T "scholarship" to Jackson Prep.

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious if anyone knows if AT&T's lack of statewide coverage plays into their desire to "hide." For those that aren't aware, AT&T's "native" coverage is VERY sparse in many parts of MS, for example, much of the eastern part of the state. When they were "Bellsouth," I think they had a roaming agreement with Cellular South (now C-Spire) and the service was decent, but when Bellsouth went to AT&T, they apparently didn't renew those agreements and service was/is basically non-existent. CSpire, OTOH, has pretty good coverage, and I think it's on their own towers, pretty much state-wide. If this is correct, it would seem that CSpire can provide service cheaper.

And for the record, I have nothing to do with either AT&T or CSpire other than as a one-time customer of both.

Anonymous said...

The two most hated companies in 'Merika are A T & T and comcast. And it is for a reason; their pricing is venal, their service poor.
C-spire, on the other hand, seems to have just the opposite track record.
If you have a problem with comcast or AT&T you get to "make speak" with someone in Manila; with C-spire it is someone in Meadville, or occasionally Houston.

Anonymous said...

I get NO AT&T coverage in Vaught Hemingway stadium ....
Cspire works great in the Rebs stadium .....

Just Axin....... said...

Who do you need to call from Vaught-Hemmingway other than a ride home for your drunk ass?

Anonymous said...

10:13 is correct re: coverage - I used to have CSpire thru work, now have AT&T, and coverage in the sticks was much better before.

Anonymous said...

The fix is in...with extra Mayo!!!

Kingfish said...

I'm about to make some people mad but sorry, AT&T is superior when it comes to data. My friends on Cspire complain when trying to use data services on their phones. If pictures or other images don't go through, usually a cspire phone is involved. I can send texts and emails while I'm talking on my phone on the AT&T network. From what I understand the roaming on Cspire suffers when you go out of state.

Anonymous said...

Kingfish - I can't imagine adults getting mad over cell carrier prefs, but you never know. It is all pretty much anecdotal except for the areas lacking coverage by this or that carrier.

Anyway, as I said above, we had Bellsouth-then-AT&T and simply had to switch due to lack of coverage in much of eastern MS. With CSpire, I've had MUCH fewer areas of no coverage - but there have been a rare few - in MS. I don't recall any issue anywhere in the world, including South and Central America, Europe, etc., pretty rural parts of the US, as well as in the region (LA, AL, FL and TN). Obviously, I'm roaming outside of CSpire's "native" areas, but I have no idea who I am roaming on.

All that said, in fairness to AT&T, we never had issues that I recall in Jackson, south of I10 on the coast, in towns and cities in MS and along much of the interstates in MS, but in lots of areas, once AT&T took over, it was no signal at all with AT&T in areas that CSpire is at least 3G, if not 4G.

I'd say the bottom line is that for MS agencies, departments, etc., the main coverage issue is ALL of MS (and perhaps in border areas), not just the Jackson metro area and certainly not Chicago or LA.

And as an aside, I've never had any 'net/email "weirdness" with CSpire, but I don't text images much, so I cannot speak to that.

Anonymous said...

I sure miss the good old days when we used smoke signals, carrier pigeons and two tin cans with very long strings to communicate!

Anonymous said...


Things all started going down hill when they started outsourcing the operators for that direct dial nonsense. Where will it all end?

Anonymous said...

Damn!! A post about transparency in state contracts - who is getting paid how much and for what - and it delves into nothing but whether AT&T or CSpire has the best coverage. And KF joins in that discussion.

This contract isn't even for the state's wireless service. Amazing how easy it is to get JJ readers - and even JJ himself - distracted.

Anonymous said...


U so impatient!

Check back tomorrow.

Maybe one someone will have the grand jury testimony, another the sealed indictments, and someone else the bribe offer recordings!

Got the hole dam blog all back on track thanks to u!

Anonymous said...

Will either C-Spire or ATT improve the quality of the audio and video Kingfish provides from various courtrooms?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what kind of contract I agreed to enter into with C-Spire when I clicked to give them $10 to bring fiber to my home. They've had my $10 for over a year and I have no service. I'd have my attorney look into it, but the conflict check would eliminate counsel from representing my complaint. I will consider it a donation to their legal fund - but if they win, I want fiber to my home or I'm going to find new representation to get my $10 back for false advertising, failure to provide services as promised and littering [for all those signs in my neighborhood].

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