FCC blames N.Y. outage on AT&T Report cites human, equipment errors

November 09, 1991|By Leslie Cauley

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission yesterday blamed weak management and antiquated equipment at AT&T for the Sept. 17 phone outage in New York that crippled three major airports and blocked more than 5 million calls that evening.

In its first public report since the incident, the FCC said American Telephone & Telegraph Co. managers at a switching site in lower Manhattan "did not exercise adequate care" to avoid the service disruption, but that the regulators had decided not to impose fines on the company.

The report said that a decision to send the facility's electric power experts to an off-site training class shortly before a critical power-exchange procedure was "not prudent."

During the procedure, AT&T's antiquated alarm system malfunctioned. The alarm, which was in the process of being replaced, had not been checked since June 1990, the FCC said.

By the time the breakdown was noticed, it was too late to avoid a full-fledged outage, AT&T said.

The outage snarled long-distance calls into and out of the New York area for more than seven hours. La Guardia, Newark and Kennedy airports lost phone links, which left air traffic controllers without critical information and forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

"Serious questions are raised as to whether AT&T is providing adequate management focus on network operations as it continues to restructure to meet challenges brought on by competition," the FCC said.

The report was issued 72 hours after another AT&T outage hit New England. That outage snarled long-distance calling into and out of the region for more than three hours and hampered communications at Boston's Logan International Airport.

AT&T attributed that outage to human error, also.

Rick Firestone, chief of the FCC's common carrier bureau, said that the FCC has asked AT&T to provide a series of reports and analyses over the next four months that detail the vulnerabilities of its network.

He said that the FCC also has asked AT&T to report on what steps it has taken, or will take, to prevent future breakdowns.

AT&T said most of the analyses requested had been completed "andrecommended actions are being implemented. We will comply promptly with all the requests made today by the commission."

The long-awaited FCC report was viewed by some observers as little more than a slap on the wrist of the nation's No. 1 long-distance company, which commands more than 60 percent of the domestic long-distance market.

Mr. Firestone said that the FCC decided not to impose fines because no malicious intent was found.

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