Feds won't pay as AT&T probes outage

Federal agencies that lost frame relay service during AT&T's network outage last week will not pay for the service until the company isolates the problem and ensures it will not recur, a spokeswoman from AT&T Government Markets said.

The spokeswoman confirmed that all the agencies that use AT&T's frame-relay service on the FTS 2000 network were affected by the outage, which took out service on the company's entire commercial data network for about a day. Company officials said they may need weeks to isolate the root of the outage.

AT&T's commercial customers will not receive bills for frame-relay service from the time the outage started the afternoon of April 13 to the time when company technicians pinpoint the root of the problem, the spokeswoman noted.

Greg Davis, telecommunications manager for customer satisfaction at the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service, said the outage touched only a small portion of FTS 2000 users. But he added that GSA officials were extremely concerned because of the potential for such an incident to occur as more users adopt services such as frame relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode. "Frame relay and ATM are the ways that [tele-communications vendors] will deliver data in the future," he said. "And if you're planning on putting all of your eggs in that basket, the services have to be more robust than this incident proves them to be."

Davis said federal agencies received no special treatment from AT&T during the outage. Consequently, federal agencies did not have their operations restored any sooner than their counterparts in the commercial world. "They treat the government as just one other customer on their commercial network," Davis said of AT&T.

The AT&T spokeswoman said the nature of the outage did not allow the company to discriminate as to which customers would have service restored first.

The extent to which agency operations were affected by the outage remained unclear last week. Ron Hack, director of systems and telecommunications at the Commerce Department, said his staff was analyzing its impact.

"We did have some disruption, but it was relatively minor," he said. "Luckily, we weren't in the middle of the decennial census or anything like that."

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