State telecom directors met for their eastern region meeting in Portland, Maine, this week to consider sweeping changes in the telecommunications arena.

Despite being buffeted by shrinking state budgets, members of The Association for Telecommunications and Technology Professionals in State Government (NASTD) said it was clear they had to absorb a host of new technologies that were transforming their jobs and the organization itself.

"In the last 10 years, we've evolved from being the organization for the phone people to become an organization that deals with the transportation of voice, video and data," said Brenda Decker, Nebraska's director of the Division of Communications and president of NASTD. "The telecommunications arena is exploding."

In presentation after presentation, state telecom directors spoke of new and impending projects involving digital telephony, voice over IP, fixed and mobile wireless, enterprise software applications and every conceivable type of video and e-government portals.

Decker said grappling with these new technologies is a major concern among state telecom agencies, who, at the same time, are dealing with homeland security and business-continuity issues as states try to figure out the best and most efficient way to secure their information and telecom infrastructure.

Complicating the entire situation is the fact that budgets among the states represented at the meeting have taken a huge hit. Legislatures are in no mood to provide more funding for projects that merge telecommunications with information technology, said one state telecom official.

However, the NASTD realizes it can't stand still as new technologies continue to show up. To help deal with the fast pace of change, the organization has opened its doors to corporate affiliates, who are playing a greater role in helping state telecom directors understand the new technologies and their possible use in government.

Right now, telecom vendors, such as AT&T, Alcatel, Marconi Communications, Qwest, Spectel and Verizon dominate the affiliates. But Decker hopes NASTD brings in more IT-related firms to reflect the growing emphasis on information and data in state telecom operations.

Harry Lanphear, Maine's CIO, echoed that view. Invited to speak before the group, Lanphear noted that the NASTD's special-interest groups are involved with many of the same issues as his organization, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

"Maybe we need to work closer together," he suggested.

Last year, the NASTD changed its descriptive tag line name to reflect the growing expansion of other information technologies into the world of telecommunications, but efforts to come up with a new name have stalled.

"NASTD is a recognized acronym," Decker pointed out. "We're still groping with what we want to be called, but we know where we are going and it includes data processing."

Government Technology magazine