Don't touch that dial tone!! : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Phone Companies Brace for New Years Tie-ups

Major phone companies are sending an unusual New Years plea to their customers: Dont pick up that phone! They fear millions of people will check for a dial tone just after midnight on Jan. 1 to see whether their phone service survived the Y2K bug. Add them to all the folks who ring in the New Year by calling family, and theres a potential for a telecommunications traffic jam. Some callers who pick up their handsets might hear nothing or get a fast busy signal. But that wont necessarily indicate that Year 2000 problems have wrecked the network, say companies. Just because you pick up the telephone at or around midnight Dec. 31st and get a busy signal doesnt mean youve been bitten by the Y2K bug, said Bill Kula of GTE. Y2K problems arise from breakdowns in computer systems that read only the last two digits in a year and interpret 2000, or 00, as 1900. The big phone companies say theyve already solved their Year 2000 computer problems, after spending more than $2.8 billion to upgrade their networks and supporting systems. Yet they are shelling out extra cash to urge consumers not to flood the system at midnight. They are using inserts in phone bills, grassroots information sessions and advertising to spread the word.

Are Phone Companies Y2K-Ready? While the Federal Communications Commission says most small and midsize carriers expect to be compliant in time, some  estimated to carry less than 1 percent of total phone access lines  may not be. The FCC doesnt expect this to affect call processing and completion. But Jim Lord, who wrote a book about the problem and publishes a bimonthly Y2K newsletter, cautions about the telecommunications industry: All of the information we have is based on self-reporting. There is also less certainty about international calls, since they could hinge on the Year 2000 readiness of foreign countries infrastructures and domestic phone systems. I think some folks will be disappointed because they will try to call other countries and some of those calls might not go through, said AT&T spokesman Dave Johnson. Phone companies, bracing for congestion, are urging consumers not to pick up their phone just to see if the line is working and are hoping they will space out their calls. Dont even test it, is the advice of Bell Atlantic spokesman Jim Smith. Its going to work. Dont make yourself nervous by running into a backed-up network. Several companies anticipate some phone system blockages during the weekend  particularly in the hours right after midnight and in the morning when people are calling relatives.

Busiest Time of the Year Estimates vary. But one high-end figure predicts the number of people picking up their phones then will be 11 times that of Mothers Day  one of the years busiest calling times, said Dave Bolger of the U.S. Telephone Association, which represents phone companies. Consumers can clog the system even without dialing because just taking the phone off the hook engages the system. Once the system reaches a certain threshold, machines monitoring the traffic might start to block dial tones or send fast busy signals. U S West has tried to calm customers nerves with newspaper ads showing a sun rising over the trees and telling consumers that on Jan. 1, the phones will ring. The company also set up a number that consumers can dial to simulate a call in the Year 2000: The call is placed through Y2K compliant equipment through systems with the date set one year ahead. This way, consumers are not just relying on our corporate speak, said William White, the companys chief technology officer. Another concern is that people might dial 911 to check the number, even if theres no emergency. GTE has encouraged our customers to think about the millennium and the use of the telephone as they would in a hurricane or earthquake, Kula said.

-- go ahead (i dare you to c@l.l), October 30, 1999


>>>Just because you pick up the telephone at or around midnight Dec. 31st and get a busy signal doesnt mean youve been bitten by the Y2K bug, said Bill Kula of GTE.

Busy signals are not the worst thing. What if you pick up the phone and hear only silence? What about that noise, Bill?

-- Geronimo (scrump@dilly.icious), October 30, 1999.

I've said it before but perhaps it bears repeating...dial tone is the telecommunications equivalent of fractional reserve banking. The phone companies years ago figured out the likelihood of EVERYBODY picking up the phone at the same time. It is pretty slim as calls will be ending just before others begin, etc. There are peak times for residential phones (Mother's Day, for example) and peak times for business phones. The switches are sized accordingly, and if EVERYBODY in your switch area (the middle three numbers) picks up the phone at the same time, no one will get dial tone. This is noticable during hurricanes, for example, when people try to call relatives and friends.

-- Mr. Mike (, October 30, 1999.

It could also be laying the ground work for--it's not our fault,due to y2k problems,it's the people's fault.Where Have I heard that before?

-- Maggie (, October 30, 1999.

Geronimo and Maggie are right, They are LYING to us. Remember this is self-reported compliance. Cjeck with Gary, he'll tell you: if they have'nt had these systems independently verified and tested since 1988, they can't work next January. This is just another part of the conspiracy. Figure it out, if they can keep us from picking up our phones, we won't know the bug has bitten us!!!

-- walt (, October 30, 1999.

They can't do real-time testing. They are hoping real hard. They are thinking they might be able to FOF in three days and say, "We warned you not to try to call. Not enough people heeded our advice."

But what if it isn't just a 3-day storm?

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, October 30, 1999.

Mr. Mike makes a good point. Almost all of our systems are calibrated to normal variations in public behavior. If everyone in town decided to buy a new car or a pair of shoes on the same day, we couldn't accommodate this. If you try to make a list of every system that could handle everyone at once doing the same thing, it wouldn't be a very long list. Roads are built to handle normal traffic flows, manufacturing facilities are designed to handle normal order levels, power generation is built for normal loads. Beyond a certain range of normal variation, almost every system breaks down or suffers delays.

Every now and then, we exceed these ranges. Items are back ordered, it's hard to call across the country on Mothers Day, roads jam up during rush hour.

As y2k problems degrade our systems, even normal behavior patterns will exceed these lower capacities more and more often. The virtue of patience will be at a premium. If you're in a hurry, you're probably fated to be disappointed.

-- Flint (, October 30, 1999.

I am most concerned about the massive record keeping systems, which are highly date dependent. Each telephone line has various circuit components associated with it, such as copper cables, fiber optic cables, and digital switch terminals. Since lines are continuously being added and disconnected, the proper handling of dates is critical. Obviously, it might be several weeks before problems with these systems become apparent to the public.

-- Dave (, October 30, 1999.

Your money is safe in the bank, just don't withdaw it, The phones work fine just don't use them. Everything works great just don't use any of it. So simple.

-- PD (Fu@bar.phobia), October 31, 1999.


Just two posts up from yours, I talked about system capacities. We suffer not when systems are used at all, but when they are swamped. If someone said you'll get indigestion if you eat too much, would you conclude that nobody should ever eat at all? Simple is one thing, simpleminded is another. You have crossed that line.

-- Flint (, October 31, 1999.

No, Flint,

I think PD has a very viable point. I mean who thinks up these lame-brained warnings anyway? I would never have thought to just pick up the phone at midnight, but now, they've sufficiently challenged my couriosity, so I'll just HAVE to. (you want to, now, also. admit it.)

Same thing with the banks. "Your money is absolutely safe, just be sure to make copies of your records." If all is safe, what are the record copies for? I don't know about everyone else, but that was when I first started hearing bells.

-- Lon Frank (, October 31, 1999.

My local community issued a similar plea this month about 911 systems, (please don't check to see if they are working). FYI

-- Deborah (, October 31, 1999.


Keeping copies of your banking records makes no sense to me either. I can't imagine any bank trusting those records. No, I'm not tempted to pick up the phone at midnight. If enough people do this, then the system will be swamped. It can happen, but people will probably get bored with this exercise soon enough, and the system will again be able to cope with normal demand.

Presumably, the banking concern is with removal of funds from the system, rather than the bank itself. You can continue to write all the checks you want for purchases, or use you credit card for purchases. Again, the danger is removing *too much* money from circulation. This doesn't mean you can't use your money.

I think my discussion of system capacities was a good, practical reply to PD's concerns. He oversimplifies, to his detriment.

-- Flint (, October 31, 1999.


Yeah, your lecture on system capabilities was good and practical and adequate. But we're not talking about good, practical, logical or sound engineering practice here. We're talking ablut folks like me. I mean, when I first heard not to pick up the phone at midnight, I thought "what kind a fool would do that?" Then I realized - about half of us nimrods who were told not to!

I know you never personally have tried it, but I suspect most people will touch the paint by a "wet paint" sign, anyway. Maybe that is what PD was getting at, and calling him simpleminded was not warranted.

-- Lon Frank (, October 31, 1999.

We went over this a couple of months ago when I first started lurking. This is not a Y2K issue as much as it is a central office and long distance office engineering issue. No different than Mother's day or during a natural disaster. The systems are not designed to provide dial tone for everyone who picks it up to see if it is working. If everyone one does "touch the wet paint", they may well get a fast busy that should tell them the system is overloaded, or they really could hear nothing. That does not mean that everything will have gone to hell from a Y2K aspect. Just overloaded processor occupancy.

It is scarey that there cannot be a logical way to test the entire system, and probably a cause of real concern in areas served by tiny rural based systems in the US as well as huge number of carriers that have sprung up. There may well be problems calling into or out of the U.S. I also have some concern over all the fairly recent large mergers among the large operating companies and carriers. A lot of experienced workers have gone elsewhere. We just have to wait and see.

However, please do not automatically assume this critical piece of the Y2K scenario is not working at 12:01 your time.

And, by the way, I would expect billing to be one of the first systems checked end to end. I saw a post discussing absurd cellular roaming charges last week and am waiting to see if my bill from my hiking trip in the southwest is honked. If my bill is nuts, I will be sure to post and let you all know.

FWIW, if you are really worried about this piece, have what is considered the dominant local carrier handle the home dial tone and pick a different one for the cellular. Couldn't hurt.

-- Nancy (, October 31, 1999.

Lon and PD:

OK, I apologize for calling PD simpleminded. To me there is a clear, obvious difference between not overloading a system and not using "*any* of it. So simple." (my emphasis added). I'll regard PD's comments as intentional humor.

I wasn't aware that it was common practice for people to do dumb things simply because they were told not to (even though they know better). Sounds kinda perverse, but people can be like that, I guess.

-- Flint (, October 31, 1999.

I'm sorry, all.

I guess the point I was getting at is off-topic for this thread. I'm afraid I carried over a discussion from the "Spin supreme at Y2K expo" thread. There, we were talking about the quality of information given us by those in athority, and what would it take to satisfy us.

For what it's worth, I understand the concepts of system capabilities, safe-guards, redundancy, and resiliency. I won't really pick up the phone at midnight. Nor will I turn in a false alarm to test 911. Nor will I turn on all the lights or all the faucets. And I haven't tested wet paint since I was about six years old. I know that dealing with the public means establishing a lowest common denominator, but I think we are somewhat tired of informational pablum:

"Don't take your money out of the bank, little children, because you might be ROBBED."

"And, kiddies, don't play with the phones, now"

"We can handle it, because we're the FEMA/Red Cross/EMS/Police, and emergencies are our business."

"You'll be safe and warm, now go to sleep" "But why, Mommie?" "Just because, now, go to sleep."

I have great faith in the guardians of our society, and in the dedication of hundreds of unseen people who make my everyday life safe and easy, but I guess I'm just a worrier.

-- Lon Frank (, October 31, 1999.

Mornin' All,

I remember discussing a subject I was concerned about with my kid's kindergarten teacher. This wonderful tweedy old chap was a step beyond Mr. Rodgers. His advice to me was 'if you tell a kid not to stick a bean up his nose, chances are he'll stick a bean up his nose'.

I know from personal experience when you get the 'all circuits are busy' recording while trying to track down someone you care about who may be in an affected area - it takes super human strength not to turn into something akin to a psychotic lab rat consisitently hitting a lever.

-- flora (***@__._), October 31, 1999.

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