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LOCKPORT – Plans are afoot to replace every phone in Niagara County government, a project that will cost some $2 million.

Information Technology Director Larry L. Helwig said about 1,900 phones are to be replaced and an entire new network constructed so the county can use “voice-over-Internet- protocol,” with phones and the computer system on the same cable.

Two hundred of the phones to be replaced belong to the court offices in Lockport and Niagara Falls, which are being paid for by the state Office of Court Administration. The other 1,700 phones are the county’s responsibility.

Up to now, the court offices have been using county phones, and for the past 20 years the county has had a Nortel phone network.

“It’s been a good phone system,” Helwig said at a joint meeting of two County Legislature committees last week. “The problem is that in January 2009, Nortel filed Chapter 11 and went bankrupt.”

As phones break down, Ronco Communications, a local company, repairs what the county’s in-house telecommunications team can’t.

“The problem we have is, there’s no new parts. Our Nortel system is at the end of its life,” Helwig told the Public Works and Administration committees. He said the old system could run for a while longer, but with increasing risk of significant breakdowns.

“We want a network that’s up 99.999 percent of the time,” Helwig said. “We want four-hour parts replacement ... We want a 10-year solution, and we want that solution to last 10 years.”

The county hired Cannon Design of Grand Island as its voice-over-Internet consultant, and ECC Technologies of Rochester as its network consultant. Meanwhile, five proposals were received in October for a new network, which Helwig said is necessary because Internet phones require more electric power than the current phones. Thus, electrical upgrades in some county buildings also will be needed.

Helwig, Cannon and ECC all agreed on the rankings. IP Logic was the highest-rated bidder, and also the lowest-priced, at $761,773. Finger Lakes Technology Group came in second and Advance 2000 was third.

However, Finger Lakes seems to be out of the picture because it offered the same hardware as IP Logic for $41,000 more. IP Logic would use Cisco Systems hardware, while Advance 2000, whose bid totaled $816,862, offers Lucent Technologies equipment.

Only IP Logic and Advance 2000 were invited to make presentations.

Matt Crider, vice president of consulting services for ECC Technologies, said he’d like to use an all-fiber optic network, but the county doesn’t have one, so existing microwave links between county buildings will have to remain in place.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, was concerned about the cost of long-term service. “A lot of times when you buy systems, service agreements kill you in the future,” he warned.

As the Legislature considers whom to hire for the new network, Helwig said Cannon is working on the details of a request for proposals for the actual phones. He said that will be issued in two or three months.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com