Telecom vendors promise to step in if WorldCom falters

While the General Services Administration is focusing on WorldCom Inc.'s delivery of current FTS 2001 services as the company navigates a Chapter 11 reorganization, chief competitors AT&T Corp. and Sprint Corp. are preparing to pick up the pieces should WorldCom fail completely.

There is plenty of capacity for the nation's IP traffic even if the UUNet backbone owned by WorldCom were to shut down, AT&T executives said. The carrier has been reassuring nervous federal customers in the wake of WorldCom's bankruptcy filing, said Don Teague, vice president for civilian sales in AT&T's government solutions group.

'We are a latecomer to FTS 2001,' Teague said. AT&T, along with Sprint, was a long-distance provider under GSA's FTS 2000 contract.

AT&T lost the FTS 2001 slot to WorldCom but recently received a contract modification letting it re-enter the GSA program for basic voice service.
Teague said he expects to sign contract modifications this month to add hosted IP services, too.

Both AT&T and Sprint have said they are laying contingency plans for a number of WorldCom customer agencies to smooth any transitions should the need arise. WorldCom officials have consistently promised that the company's financial woes will not affect UUNet.

Teague said his company's efforts began well before WorldCom sought bankruptcy protection to address government concerns about continuity of operations following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

GSA meanwhile said it is not making any plans for the possibility that WorldCom would not be able to serve its FTS 2001 customers.

'The focus is on making sure service is not interrupted and on keeping constant contact with WorldCom,' GSA spokeswoman Mary Alice Johnson said. 'We are in daily contact. There has been no degradation of service.'

WorldCom has assured government customers that bankruptcy proceedings would not interfere with service. Chief executive officer John Sidgmore has said he cannot conceive that UUNet would go dark.

UUNet is one of the largest carriers of Internet traffic, but in recent meetings, AT&T officials said they disputed WorldCom's claim that it carries more than 50 percent of that traffic. They said AT&T and UUNet each have about 15 percent with the remainder divided among 38 other carriers.

A cakewalk

Absorbing the traffic in the event that UUNet did go dark would be 'a piece of cake,' AT&T chief technology officer Hossein Eslambolchi said. 'Most likely, our traffic would go up 35 or 40 percent.' The company has projected 250 percent growth in IP traffic over the next year, he said.

Eslambolchi and J. Michael Jenner, vice president of AT&T's global IP network services, disputed the popular notion that Internet traffic is doubling every three to four months at a sixteenfold annual growth rate.

'That was probably true in the early days of the Internet,' but no longer, Eslambolchi said. An AT&T study released in July put the annual growth at 70 percent to 150 percent. The study estimated total Internet traffic on U.S. backbones at the end of 2000 at 20 to 35 petabytes per month, less than the estimated 53 petabytes of monthly voice traffic on U.S. long-distance networks.

If any major carrier were to collapse, the big problem would be restoring local access.

'The bottleneck would be at the edge of the network,' Eslambolchi said, and local access to backbones could take months in some places. 'We are deploying local-access infrastructure all over the country, but we're not everywhere.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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