| Beat the Clock

A unique event. Industry executives and federal officials are
worried about survival of the telecommunications infrastructure as devices tick over to
Jan. 1, 2000.

An AT&T Corp. executive testified at a recent House subcommittee meeting that
averting network and service outages may be the most critical task the telecom giant has
ever faced.

Even industry experts can’t predict with certainty where failures may occur
because of system interdependencies and the neural complexity of the public switched
telephone network.

Despite the industry’s best efforts to test critical telecom networks before 2000,
“we do not know all the ways that the failure of one piece of the network could
trigger failures elsewhere,” Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Powell told
the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee.

Powell tried to keep the uncertainty in perspective by pointing out that telecom
networks are designed to be fault-tolerant. He said there is no reason to believe that one
or two year 2000-related failures could lead to a chain reaction that would disable large
portions of the nationwide network.

Hard to prove. But because it is impossible to recreate an offline
version of the public switched network to test for year 2000 readiness, verification will
be possible only when all the tested components are brought together online on Jan. 1,

AT&T plans to conduct internetwork signaling interoperability tests early next

It is working with an industry group, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry
Solutions, to advance the network clock on various test networks in different time zones.

The largest regional local exchange carriers will begin a separate network
interoperability project later this year to test readiness of the components most widely
deployed in the North American public switched network.

Promised upgrades. Agencies will be responsible for readying and
testing their own telephones, voice-mail systems, private branch exchanges and LANs, the
FCC commissioner said.

An executive of Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J., the world’s largest
manufacturer of communications systems, told the subcommittee that year 2000 upgrades for
all products manufactured and sold by its Business Communications Systems unit on or after
Sept. 30, 1996, will be ready this fall.

AT&T is still working on contingency plans.

In plans it shared with Congress, however, the telecommunications giant raised the
possibility of time zone quiet periods, during which AT&T might deactivate some
systems and processes for 24 hours as each region rolls over to the new century.

—Florence Olsen

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