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PublicationDate: 3/6/96
Author: ODAS - Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary - SFA

Announcement #4, March 6, 1996


Issue: Transition to Title IV WAN

In keeping with our commitment to keep you informed about the status of application
processing for the 1996-97 award year, we are providing this daily announcement.
This announcement is number four in the series.

The Department understands that institutions have experienced problems with
transitioning to the new Title IV Wide Area Network (WAN) system and we want to
express our appreciation for your patience during this time. We understand that
learning to use a new system is often time-consuming and frustrating, but we also
know that changing to this new system will provide you with better service in the
long run.

The WAN contract was awarded to National Computer Systems (NCS) on July 14, 1995.
NCS teamed up with General Electric Information Services (GEIS) to bring you a
sophisticated and significantly enhanced system for transferring student application
and payment data as well as providing enhanced on-line query, bulletin board, and
e-mail services. Additionally, this new system provides users with:

- improved mainframe support
- higher data transmission speeds (up to 28.8 Kbs)
- new customer service toll-free number (1-800-615-1189)
- specialized mainframe customer support number (1-800-638-8730 x4391)
- after-hours automated voice response system
- extended customer service hours
- no monthly service billing charges
- reduced fees to users, and
- Internet access, among other things.

To date, 3,787 destination points have signed up for WAN use. This is down from
4,200 GES destination points from last year. The Department and NCS have attempted
to ease this transition by notifying GES and WAN destination points of the steps
that were to be taken to shut down the GES contract. Additionally, during the month
of January, WAN Customer Service contacted those destination points that were
signed up for last year but had not yet signed up for WAN for this year to inform them
that the transition was imminent and provide needed assistance. Of those destination
points that have signed up for WAN use, 2,992 have completed connectivity testing
to become productional and 139 are still going through the connectivity testing process.

GES destination points should note that Friday, March 8, 1996 is the deadline for
getting mail and data from GES. After that date, no mail or data will be available. To
date, 575 users have not picked up GES data. As such, all users are encouraged to
draw down all messages and data before Friday.

As with any new system, users who have attempted to make the transition from the
General Electronic System (GES) to the new WAN system have encountered a few
problems. According to WAN Customer Service, the primary problems encountered
by users converting to the WAN system have not been related to software or network
problems, but rather are problems related to the customer's individual system, such as:

A. Modem Issues

Hardware (modems and cables) that work at lower transmission speeds used on GES
don't always support faster speeds available on WAN. There is a proliferation of new,
inexpensive modems on the market that work well at lower speeds but don't correctly
support the protocols required to transfer data at higher speeds. Each model of
modem from every manufacturer requires "setup strings" specific to that modem.
WAN software includes setup strings for many modems. However, as new modems
are released (and even new batches of current modems) additional setup strings
are necessary.

B. Using non-standard COM ports and IRQs

Some users' systems require that non-standard COM ports and interrupt settings (IRQs)
be used to support their modems. This requires specialized initialization files for the
communications modules.

C. Password process has changed

Users on GES would get one "grace" logon after their password had expired. On the
WAN system, users don't get this "grace" logon. If users don't change their passwords
before they expire, the password must be reset by WAN Customer Service before the
network can be accessed again. This has caused some confusion for users, so
Version 1.1.0 of EDconnect has been modified to better explain this difference.

D. Compression/Decompression

When users store data in paths with long names, the compression process truncates
the path and causes the compression/decompression process to fail. This problem
can be eliminated by using shorter path names. Version 1.1.0 of EDconnect corrects
this problem.

E. File Naming Standard Change

The naming standard for PC files received from the WAN is different from GES. The
change was made to accommodate more files of the same message class and to ensure
unique file names.

In the three months prior to the GES shutdown, which occured this week, WAN
Customer Service received over 32,000 calls. Due to increased call volumes, some
callers have experienced problems getting through to WAN Customer Service.
Specifically, callers have received a message saying "all circuits are busy."
This message is from the AT&T operator and means that the FTS 2000 trunk lines
have reached full capacity and that the call should be attempted again at a later time.
To keep up with the increased demand, WAN Customer Service has hired and trained
additional staff, mandated overtime for service representatives, established a special
GEIS team to assist with calls, request that callers provide the "best time of day" for
call backs, and made multiple call backs when possible. Additionally, an Internet
address (T4WAN@NCS.COM) has been established for customers to use to contact
WAN Customer Service.

We hope these efforts will alleviate your concerns during this transition period. We
want to thank you for your continued patience as we continue to work together.

Last Modified: 08/16/1999