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Outages Linked to Phone Firms’ Failure to Share Information

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The massive phone outages that swamped telephone systems in Los Angeles, San Francisco and several Eastern cities this summer could have been avoided--or at least minimized--if local Bell telephone companies had shared information about technical problems, federal investigators said.

The Federal Communications Commission, acting on that belief, said it will set up new rules requiring the Baby Bell operating companies--such as Pacific Bell and Bell Atlantic, the two hit by the outages in June and early July--to notify one another about service problems.

The commission noted, however, that there is no evidence of overall deterioration in the nation’s telephone system.

The FCC report, which was submitted Monday to the House subcommittee on telecommunications and finance and made public Tuesday, said the outages were caused primarily by a software glitch in new switching and signaling equipment.

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The outages occurred in Los Angeles on June 10, the Washington-Baltimore area on June 26, again in Los Angeles on July 26 and in Pittsburgh, Pa., on July 1 and July 2.

However, none of the local companies were officially notified about the problems experienced by the others, the report said.

The FCC complained also that U.S. phone operators were uninformed about recent similar equipment failures abroad.

“It is troubling that lessons learned from previous outages involving other carriers . . . apparently were not shared within the industry in a way that reduced the risk or spread of disruptions,” FCC Chairman Alfred C. Sikes wrote in a letter accompanying the report.

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” . . . It appears key operations people at Bell Atlantic were not aware of the failure experienced by Pacific Bell on June 10,” the report said.

The new switching network, known as Signaling System 7, or SS-7, has been installed throughout most of the country in recent years. The equipment is made by different companies, and the software problem that led to the outages occurred in switches supplied by DSC Communications Inc. of Plano, Tex.

Although observing that “reliable software that controls the various networks will be critical in avoiding incidents” such as those that disrupted the Pacific Bell and Bell Atlantic systems in recent weeks, the FCC investigators concluded that “there is virtually no evidence to indicate an adverse change in the reliability and high quality” of the U.S. phone system.


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