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July 20, 2004

'Devastated' to lose deaf service contract – NZ firm

From: Computerworld New Zealand, New Zealand - Jul 20, 2004

Stephen Bell, Wellington

A New Zealand company that prepared a bid for the teletype relay service for the country's hearing and speech impaired is "devastated" to have lost out to US telecommunications giant Sprint.

A government subsidy for a teletype service was promised last year after a hard-fought campaign by New Zealand's community of potential users.

The service uses live operators to convert the spoken word to text and back so speaking users can communicate smoothly over the telephone with people with hearing and speech impairments. The text is screened on an internet-connected PC or printed by an older technology teletype machine, already widely established in the user community.

Victoria Manning, chair of CommunicatioNZ, a company established with the goal of providing New Zealand with a telecommunications relay service, says with the support of the provider of the Australian relay service, the Australian Communication Exchange (ACE), it made "a very well prepared and thorough bid" for the relay service.

"We were devastated to lose the bid," Manning says. "CommunicatioNZ is now in the process of reassessing our status and directions. A significant difference in our bid and the winning bid was the price -- our bid was more expensive. Other than this, we are not very clear about why we lost.

"Our bid focused on our strengths of providing a high-quality relay service with the latest technological capabilities, providing high quality [support] services, and our excellent local knowledge and capabilities."

CommunicatioNZ's board has a majority [four out of seven] of consumers as members. Only one board member is Australian; all the others are Kiwis.

"ACE has supported New Zealand, including the New Zealand government, for several years with information and research needed to develop a new relay service for New Zealand," she says.

"Sprint has a proven track record in the supply of relay services," says a spokesman for the Ministry of Economic Development, which evaluated bids. "The Sprint bid offered good value for money and the future opportunity to take advantage of innovative technologies for the delivery of relay services."

Besides the Sprint and CommunicatioNZ bids, only one other was received. Only two bids were taken through to the shortlist (presumably the first two, though MED declines to name bidders).

"Sprint is in the process of appointing a New Zealand-based manager to oversee the TRS (telephone relay service) operations," the MED spokesman says. "This person will initially be based on Counties Power premises."

The government is separately establishing a textphone pool for the rental of equipment to work with the relay service to "eligible persons" at a subsidised rate. Sprint has also been appointed to supply equipment and administer the equipment pool on behalf of the Crown.

Sprint is a US-based telecommunications service provider with extensive experience as the leading provider of relay services in the US for nearly 14 years. Sprint also provides relay services in Puerto Rico.

The New Zealand service will be its first venture in relay services outside the US and dependent territories.

Copyright IDG Communications Ltd, 2003