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Computer Glitch Hangs Up 8,500 Phones in South County

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 8,500 Cox Communications telephone customers in South County went without phone service for five hours Wednesday.

Service to the mostly residential customers went out at 9:30 a.m. and was restored at 2:30 p.m., according to Leo Brennan, vice president and general manager of Cox Communications of Orange County Inc. The culprit was a software glitch that shut down a key switch in the Irvine-based cable provider’s telecommunications center.

A Cox spokesman said customers whose service was disrupted will receive a credit on an upcoming bill.

The company said customers in Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita were affected.

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Cox was one of the first cable companies to offer telephone service and launched its program with a yearlong test in South County that began in September 1997. Recently, Cox’s parent company in Atlanta rolled out telephone service in seven other areas of the country.

The service failure was the first significant outage in the state for Cox, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. The company reported a small telephone service disruption in South County in September, but it affected only a few hundred customers, said PUC spokesman Al Singh.

The telephone lines are part of a “bundle” of services provided by Cox over the same lines. Brennan said the other services--high-speed modem access and digital television--were not disrupted. They do not pass through the telephone switch--essentially a large computer that tracks and routes thousands of calls in and out of the Cox service area.

Cox technicians “will be spending a lot of time in the next few days working to make sure we have processes in place so this doesn’t happen again,” said company spokesman Mark Stuckey.

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