WISCONSIN - Thousands Lose LD Phone Service, Cut Cable Blamed

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Severed phone line cuts service to thousands -- GTE customers in central Wisconsin are unable to make long-distance calls

By Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel staff Last Updated: May 22, 2000

Phone service across a wide swath of Wisconsin's midsection was knocked out for much of the day on Monday, causing major disruptions that left tens of thousands of people unable to make long distance calls or use the Internet.

The damage affected customers of GTE Corp., or people trying to dial GTE customers who live in the affected region. GTE is the second-largest local phone company in Wisconsin.

Construction crews working south of Wausau severed a fiber-optic line owned by GTE shortly before 10 a.m. A GTE spokeswoman said service was restored by 5:05 p.m.

Customers in areas that included portions of Wausau, Stevens Point, Minocqua and Rhinelander were unable to make long-distance calls. In some cases, local calls were also affected, according to GTE spokeswoman Lou Ann Novak.

The damaged cable fed a sophisticated switching system that moves phone traffic over great distances, Novak said.

Wireless phone service was not affected, unless callers were trying to reach customers in the affected area.

The region in question ranged from Neillsville on the west to Minocqua on the north to portions of Kewaunee County to the east and Wautoma on the south.

State Public Service Commission spokeswoman Annemarie Newman said some 48,000 customers were without long-distance service. But GTE said it had no way to determine the exact number of people affected.

Although state regulators said the disruption was a significant loss of phone service, GTE's Novak said the company has lost service to more customers in the past.

The service loss apparently pockmarked the phone system, causing problems in some areas and causing little or no disruptions in others. For example, GTE's own headquarters in Wausau lost service, as did the Wausau headquarters of Graebel Van Lines, a nationwide moving company with offices across the country. But the Marathon County Sheriff's Department said its phone system was not affected.

Natalie Cook, a Graebel employee, said employees were unable to make or receive calls. Internet traffic and financial records on the company's internal network could not be accessed.

In Stevens Point, service was knocked out for much of the day in some parts of the city, but a spokesman for Sentry Insurance said phone traffic got through at the company's world headquarters.

GTE has about 370,000 customers in 115 telephone exchanges in Wisconsin.

In an unrelated problem, a cut cable interrupted emergency 911 service in the city of Burlington for two hours Monday morning, Police Lt. Gary Large said.

An Ameritech spokesman said a cable cut in Waukesha caused the 911 problem in Burlington at 8:05 a.m., but service was restored at 10:04 a.m. by the rerouting of emergency calls.

Calls to 911 were forwarded to regular dispatch lines, so all calls were being answered, Large said.

Regular 911 service was restored about 1:30 p.m.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 23, 2000.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), May 23, 2000

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