Venerable User Group Cancels Show, Staff

NEW YORK (08/11/2000) - One of the nation's oldest user groups for network professionals last week suffered a major blow as it was forced to cancel its annual convention.

The move by the Communications Managers Association (CMA), a 52-year-old group that represents corporate users in the Northeast, is the latest in a string of recent problems affecting traditional telecom user groups with a voice communications heritage.

CMA President Charles Murray sent members a letter saying the group's Corporate Networks 2000 conference, scheduled for October in New York, would not be held.

Murray attributed the decision to low booth sales to exhibitors.

CMA had sold only 75 of its 140 available booth spaces, Network World learned.

Even the maximum 140 was a reduction from previous years' shows in an attempt to prevent this year's edition from looking underbooked.

Murray, a telecom director with The Travelers Group, also says CMA's professional staff in its New Jersey headquarters is being dismissed to save money. CMA's traditional monthly educational seminars will resume later this year, though the group recently has been skipping some months. CMA will continue holding occasional liaison meetings with carriers with a heavy presence in the region, such as Verizon Corp. and AT&T Corp.

Industry observers say CMA's woes are not unique among groups whose core membership consists of telecom managers. "A lot of communications associations are having problems right now," says Ruth Michalecki, director of telecommunications and information systems for the University of Nebraska.

Michalecki, immediate past president of the International Communications Association, notes that the once-independent ICA national convention was merged into the annual SuperComm trade show for service providers several years ago.

Even at that, registration for the ICA portion of the convention "seems to get a little less every year," she says.

Part of the problem is the trend pushing corporate voice and data management together, and the resulting pull of large Internet and data-networking trade shows. "There's a different outfit running telecom these days," Michalecki says. "They're not as interested in being part of this kind of group as the old telephone people were." Another tug on people's time is vertical-industry user associations and vendor-specific meetings, she says. For example, a user group for college telecom administrators called ACUTA enjoys strong attendance at its meetings, she says.

CMA leaders who asked not to be identified noted that last year CMA had signaled a move away from a voice orientation by renaming its show Corporate Networks from its previous long-standing name, TelCom. But they conceded the move may have come later than it should have and left CMA lumped together in users' minds with other traditional telecom groups.

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