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Telcos say phones aren't bugged

Y2K: Ringing in the new year

Telcos say phones aren't bugged

"Our message is that on Jan. 1, the sun will rise, you will continue to breathe and you will have a dial tone."

Laura Simanton, US West spokeswoman

By Thomas Hargrove - Scripps Howard News Service StarNet Dispatches Wed Mar 17 02:02:33 1999

The telephone company wants you to know that the sun will still rise on Jan. 1 and the phones will still ring.

Doomsday prophecies that the year 2000 computer bug will shut down key public utilities have prompted a coalition of dozens of telecommunication companies to conduct a series of technical experiments to determine what will happen New Year's Day.

The telephone companies formed a research group, Telco Year 2000 Forum, which supervised 1,914 laboratory tests of the national telecommunications grid. The group charted what will happen when the calendar changes from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, as well as from Feb. 28 to March 1, 2000 (For the first time in 400 years, next year will be a leap year even though most years divisible by 100 are not leap years).

"Out of 1,914 test cases, only six resulted in year 2000-related anomalies," said Gerry Roth, vice president of the forum. "Each of the six was resolved, retested, and subsequently passed. Our main goal was to test the functionality of date- and time-sensitive operations to minimize the risk of network and service failures."

None of the six failures actually resulted in a telephone call not going through, or being disrupted. Most were failures of administrative and technical data that track calls.

"We really were not that surprised. The basic dial tone does not rely upon dates," said Laura Simanton, spokeswoman for US West telephone company in Seattle. "We tested this in 20 laboratory sites across the nation, and ran with every configuration that we could imagine."

The Y2K bug is based on the inability of older mainframe systems, and microprocessor chips designed using older programming, to differentiate between 1900 and 2000 because years are abbreviated to the last two digits.

Telecommunication engineers are hard-pressed to find critical failures that would shut down local and long-distance calls. The utilities quickly admit, however, that there may be other oddities that pop up next January, even if service is uninterrupted.

"If your bill says you have been on the telephone for 100 years, we will definitely work with you," Simanton said.

The White House clearly has been impressed with the checks made not only by the telecommunication firms, but by other key industries in the United States.

"We are increasingly confident that there will not be large-scale disruptions among banks and in the power and telecommunications industries," said John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. "Disruptions that do occur will most likely be of a more localized nature."

Yet fears that society's critical infrastructure will fail abound, especially among conspiracy theorists on the Internet. Several authors have suggested worldwide telecommunication shutdown is a possibility.

"The Y2K problem will not bring destruction and death as a hurricane or war," wrote Bruce F. Webster in "The Y2K Survival Guide." "But that doesn't mean it won't be painful or serious. It will be more than a mere bump in the road ahead or a brief hiccup in a long economic boom."

The telecommunication industries have started a newspaper advertising campaign in some communities to try to allay the fears.

"We are trying to get everyone to take a deep breath and not make ourselves crazy for an entire year," Simanton said. "Our message is that on Jan. 1, the sun will rise, you will continue to breathe, and you will have a dial tone."

-- Woody (, March 18, 1999



"Telecommunication engineers are hard-pressed to find critical failures that would shut down local and long-distance calls."

oh? try turning off the electrical power for a few days...

funny how they just assumed there would be electricity everywhere...


-- Arlin H. Adams (, March 18, 1999.

It has been said thet the telcos supply their own power. Do they have their own generators, or do they get it from a "higher level" on the grid than other businesses? Mr. Cook? <:)=

-- Sysman (, March 18, 1999.

All -

According to Ms. Simonton on a local Y2K show in Seattle (Town Meeting on Ch. 4 - end of Feb.) the telephone companies have back up generators with which "we (US West) can operate for 3 days without power". Apparently if the power goes down, it will be up in 3 days because that is how long their generators and fuel will last. Don't worry - be happy - have a dial tone.

-- Valkyrie (, March 18, 1999.

Gosh, if that's the case, they should have only a one day supply of fuel for the generators or, better yet, none.

-- Vic (, March 18, 1999.

I know that our local telephone switching station has backup generators and so do several towns around here in n.e. texas i inspected their system when i was installing my backup generator. they have the large batteries tha are about the size of a 5 gal. bucket and are 1 1/2 volts per battery. their generator is jimmy diesel. w/about a 200gal tank. i didnt ask how long this would run the generator. but i am sure the betteries would last about a week.

-- robert crozier (, March 18, 1999.

You can simulate allyouwant, but the international telecom system can't be truly tested until the magic time. The FAA has simulated y2k in a "simulated environment" with "remediated systems" and has found that upon implementation, found large scale problems. Generally, there are always problems. Murphy's Law reigns. When I was a programmer/analyst, even the simplest revisions created unforeseen difficulties. I'm sorry that I don't have a verification link, but I very recently read this. Federal Computer Week maybe? Maybe one of you government web site sluthes can help.....

-- PJC (, March 18, 1999.

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