• United States
Executive Editor

Budget woes fail to deter statehouse net execs

May 12, 20037 mins

CHARLESTON, W. VA. – Undaunted by staffing and money shortages, some state governments are forging ahead with major IT projects ranging from installation of significant fiber WANs to building vast criminal-justice databases.

Government technology officials at the National Association of State Telecommunications Directors Northeast meeting last week expressed frustration over dramatic state budget and staff cuts, but bubbled with enthusiasm about advanced projects that promise to save their states money, meet demand for network bandwidth and deliver on e-government directives.

For example, West Virginia is saving thousands of dollars with videoconferences that replace meetings that would require travel. Pennsylvania’s new fiber network is boosting bandwidth and a new network services contract is saving the state $1.18 million per year. And New Jersey is boosting its backbone bandwidth from OC-3 to OC-12 to support citizens’ access to online state services.

Here are some state-by-state highlights:


The state recently completed a shared Oracle database for criminal justice agencies, including police, prosecutors and public defenders. The challenge was to make sure access was properly segregated among 12 different state agencies to rule out scenarios such as the public defender accessing the district attorney’s case files.

Also for the criminal justice system, the state implemented a fingerprint ID system that moves a lot of image files, boosting the need for bandwidth to the fingerprint database. Also boosting bandwidth demand is the Department of Children and Families. The state agency is increasing its head count, despite 6,000 state government layoffs. The problem is that the department’s software is bandwidth-intensive, which will likely require re-engineering of the network. “It’s the ultimate thick client,” says Robert Dixon, director of operations for the Department of Information Technology.

Also coming up is a shift in the state’s auto-inspection structure, moving from 15 test sites statewide to more than 400 located at dealerships and garages. “That’s going to be its own networking adventure,” Dixon says.


The state is two years into a five-year, $288 million contract with Telcove to install and manage a statewide fiber WAN, says Valerie Long, assistant director of support services and network planning for the governor’s Office of Administration. The company bid to provide the state a set of services, and the state knew that would require extensive fiber builds to rural locations that otherwise would not lure providers. Most of the network is built and is supporting 80% of the services required by state agencies. The new fiber WAN also enables Telcove to offer broadband service in rural areas on the same network, which the state encouraged.

Long says she is concerned that the cost of access lines to the fiber network could change because of the recent Federal Communications Commission ruling that would affect the rates that traditional local carriers can charge for the equipment and services they lease to competitors, such as Telcove. The complicated FCC decision warrants a thorough look, she says.

After an agonizing year of transitioning from leased lines to the new fiber network, Long is hoping to reach a steady state in which services are delivered routinely and staff can focus on development. A complicating factor is that because bidding the contract is such a complex project, it is nearly time to start preparing the next RFP for the WAN.

A push is afoot to encourage state agencies to adopt a common enterprise standard for equipment so that as a group they can get better deals from vendors. “There are economies of scale to be had, but it’s difficult to implement enterprise policies because of [departmental] fragmentation,” Long says. The state also is looking for a site for a back-up server farm as a fallback for the primary one in Harrisburg.

West Virginia

A hacker hit on the state’s site prompted a security assessment that exposed unsuspected vulnerabilities, including Web servers being run off PCs in the state network, a contractor using the state’s Internet access for its own business, and network devices unwittingly exposed to the Internet. These problems have been corrected and an intrusion-detection service hired to guard against future incursions, says Deepesh Randeri, the state’s CTO. One hurdle yet to overcome is that the intrusion-detection provider needs to check with state workers to determine whether behavior deemed suspect on the network is authorized, such as a PC in one office trying to access the C drive of a computer in another office.

With 23 videoconference sites already on the state network, agencies are trying to expand use of them to save money in a variety of unexpected ways. One cabinet secretary used videoconferencing to deliver a policy message to department workers rather than spend a day driving around the state to do it in person. The courts are doing video arraignments, the Child Welfare Department is setting up distance meetings with counselors, and state psychiatrists are meeting with patients via video, Randeri says.


The state is building a back-up data center in Barre that will mirror the mainframe in the state capital, Montpelier. These sites will be connected by an OC-3 link that will double as the backbone of GovNet, the state’s government WAN, says Hale Irwin, telecommunications chief at the state’s Communications and Information Technology division.

The state is looking for a way to figure a usage-based chargeback to departments for the bandwidth they consume on the state WAN, Irwin says. On the voice side, the state is looking for a system that would better manage billing.

The state also is beefing up its physical security with ID cards and video surveillance that will start in the capital and be expanded throughout the state.


The state has integrated XML content formatted for its Web site with its automatic voice-response phone system to offer taxpayers information more efficiently. This enables the public to get by phone the same information that the Web site offers, without involving live operators, says Kay Buck, business office team leader at the Department of Information and Technology. “We can use it for things already on the Web without having to rewrite the entire application,” Buck says.

Service on the new system include locators for voting sites, where to file taxes and where to get free tax help. Features of the system also include frequently asked questions about state taxes, finding status of tax returns and where to find a free, public computer that has Internet access.

“It works like a champ,” Buck says, and if the state comes up with enough applications, the voice XML project could warrant full-time programmers.

On other frontiers, the state is continuing a migration from its legacy Beyond Mail e-mail and Ontime calendaring platforms to Microsoft Outlook. It also is migrating from the state’s Switched Multimegabit Data Service WAN to frame relay and ATM.

New Jersey

The state has a growing demand for cell phone use – from 3,500 last December to more than 5,000 today, because they now are issued to all child social-welfare workers. Via hard scrutiny of cell phone use, the state determined the best mix of standard calling plans would give the state the 3 million aggregate calling minutes it needed. The analysis also ensured that the state gets the best average price per minute, says David Blackwell, telecommunications manager in the state’s Information Technology Office. The plans are resold to the departments that need the phones at a savings over what they would have paid if they bought separate plans without aggregating minutes.

A different state wireless network – which supports state police cruisers and state highway department vehicles in the northeastern part of the state – was wiped out by the World Trade Center attack that took down the state broadcast antenna. The network still is running on the emergency replacements set up immediately after the attack, and the state is looking at a $30 million project to find a permanent fix, Blackwell says. The upside is that the new system will be entirely digital and support more microwave channels than the old one.