Two companies are for the second time charging that the Maine Public Utilities Commission was unfair when it awarded a contract to FairPoint Communications to upgrade the state’s 9-1-1 systems.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission has awarded the $32 million NextGen 9-1-1 contract to FairPoint twice in six months. But Lewiston-based Oxford Networks and Colorado-based Intrado, who both submitted lower bids than FairPoint, state in separate appeals that the bidding process again unfairly favored FairPoint.
PUC originally granted the contract to FairPoint, which holds the current contract for 9-1-1 services, on Jan. 6. That award was invalidated by a decision of Maine Bureau of General Services’ bureau of purchases appeal panel, which concluded there were irregularities in the scoring process and violations of Maine bidding law.
Bids were rescored and the contract was awarded again to FairPoint on June 6.
Oxford Networks noted in its appeal that the first bidding process was found to be arbitrary and fundamentally unfair.
“Undeterred by that setback, the PUC hastily closed ranks, reconvened an ostensibly new review team, and rescored the original proposals without offering the bidders any opportunity to supplement their proposals or make oral presentations as permitted under the terms of the RFP,” stated an appeal from Lewiston-based Oxford Networks, one of nine companies that submitted bids for the project.
Oxford maintains it should have been the winning bidder under the review process.
“The PUC’s latest, and utterly transparent, effort to put the NextGen 911 contract into the hands of FairPoint — apparently by any means necessary — cannot stand,” states the Oxford appeal.
Oxford said the rejection of its bid was arbitrary and capricious and FairPoint’s bid failed to comply with the specifications in the state’s requests for proposals.
Intrado claims in its appeal that bids were good only through May 20 and that after that date new bids needed to be submitted.
Fairpoint was awarded the NextGen 9-1-1 contract with its bid of $32,364,514. Intrado bid $27,799,492 and Oxford bid $24,919,307.
FairPoint’s current contract expires Oct. 31, 2013. The new contract is for five years.
The PUC defended its actions in a response emailed Friday to the Bangor Daily News.
“I believe the process leading to the award was fair, designed only to find the best provider for this vital public service. I am disappointed that Oxford has chosen to suggest that the process had a predetermined outcome. As we intend to show the board of contract appeals, it did not,” stated the response from PUC Chairman Thomas Welch.
FairPoint spokesperson Jeff Nevins also defended his company’s bid in a written statement.
“We responded to the state request for proposal by offering a premium state-of-the-art system to handle emergency calls in Maine. We believe the new system will solidify the state’s leadership in providing ‘next-generation’ 9-1-1 for the residents of Maine,” Nevins stated.
The current 9-1-1 communications system is decades old, said Maria Jacques, director of emergency services communications bureau for the PUC.
“The old system is maxed out. It can only handle a small amount of information, not text information. It’s nearing the end of its useful life,” she said.
The contract is for the network, database, and equipment, Jacques said. Bids were required to be compliant with federal disability laws and National Emergency Number Association guidelines, which requires providing direct access to people who use telecommunications devices for the deaf.
In Knox County, the relocation of the communications center has been put on hold until the state contract is settled.
The Knox dispatch center wants to wait until the state digital 9-1-1 system is in place so it does not have to move its existing analog system — at a cost of $50,000.
Knox County Regional Communications Center Director Linwood Lothrop told the Knox County Commissioners earlier this month that, while he is fully supportive of the upgrade, he is concerned about the lack of information provided by the state.
“For 9-1-1 calls, regional dispatch is where the rubber meets the road,” Lothrop said. “They don’t tell us much and we are left in the dark.”
The division of purchasing from the Maine Bureau of General Services will hold appeal hearings Aug. 29 through Aug. 31.