Cellular South, state of Miss. to sign cell phone deal

Published 7:06 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cellular South expects to sign a deal in four to six weeks to become the sole provider of cell phones to Mississippi state government agencies and city and county government for the next five years.

The contract will cover wireless voice and data service, said David Litchliter, executive director of Mississippi Information Technology Services.

“We don’t know yet how many people will use it. We’ll need to finalize rates, discuss devices and negotiate for what agencies can do if they have to work in a dead zone.

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“We’re going to end up with a better rate structure and be better on a per-user rate,” Litchliter said.

A report by the state auditor’s office for the budget year that ended June 30, 2004, found cell phones used by state employees cost taxpayers at least $2.5 million. State agencies and universities had about 5,000 cell phones worth almost $500,000, according to the report.

The report also found agencies had inconsistent procedures for purchasing phones and negotiating service plans. Some agencies paid half what others were paying for the same or less service.

State agencies currently use multiple companies and may not have the optimal devices and plans to fit their particular needs, Litchliter said.

A 2006 law established a pool of cell phone use so that one purchase plan will cover all.

Litchliter said the transition by state agencies to Cellular South’s network likely will take months as current contracts with other providers will be honored or broken if there’s no financial penalty.

Cities and counties will be able to make the transition at their own pace, he said.

Terrell Knight, Cellular South business development director, said the company already has 60 percent to 65 percent of the state’s business and a majority of the cities’ and counties’ business, too.

“We fully expect to acquire several thousand units because of this contract,” he said.

The deal will make the state the company’s largest customer, he said. It also will improve cell coverage and help private customers as the company will be required to continue building out its network, Litchliter said.

The Mississippi Wireless Communication Commission picked the Jackson-based company’s bid from a handful of others. Litchliter, a member of the commission, said Cingular, Verizon Wireless and Sprint also submitted bids.

The cellular contract will be for five years with two optional two-year extensions. Litchliter said.