The US's largest telecommunications providers are prepared to face the year 2000 challenge and will have systems upgraded in time, but smaller carriers are alarmingly behind schedule according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has released a report analysing the preparedness of the US telecommunications, radio, broadcast, satellite and cable television industries.
Dubbed the "Y2K Communications Sector Report," the extensive study concluded that there will be no major disruptions to the telephone, broadcast and cable television networks on Jan. 1, 2000. Companies in the U.S. communications sector are some of the most prepared when it comes to fixing the year 2000 problem, though smaller providers are lagging behind. The year 2000 problem is occurring because older software code was written with a two-digit date field that might interpret the "00" in 2000 as "1900" and therefore could fail to make correct calculations.
The largest local and long-distance fixed-line providers "are well on their way to being ready for the 2000...and are expected to be 100 percent ready, including having their contingency plans in place, by the second quarter of 1999," the report said. The large local carriers control 92 percent of all U.S. access lines and the big long-distance companies in turn control 82 percent of that market.
However, the smaller fixed-line carriers are behind their large-scale counterparts when it comes to fixing systems to handle the year 2000 changeover, the report said. Half of these smaller carriers reported not having formal processes in place for managing the year 2000 problem, a prospect which is a "concern" to the FCC.
The picture is similar for wireless providers. Large operators have finished fixing 60 percent of their systems for the year 2000, while just half of the smaller carriers -- serving less than 500,000 customers -- have implemented a fix-it plan. However, the FCC points out that the wireless part of the study cannot be taken as a complete sampling of the wireless telecom industry. Only 31 percent of companies surveyed responded, although their responses are significant considering that these carriers serve 42 million of the country's 103.8 million wireless subscribers.
U.S. residents can also be assured of few disruptions to the broadcast television and radio networks, the FCC said. While there will be isolated year-2000 related incidents, most broadcasters surveyed said they have year-2000 plans in place and expect to complete upgrades in the first half of this year, with ample time for testing prior to Jan. 1, 2000. Others did not have formal plans in place, but were taking steps to ensure that mission-critical station and transmission equipment would continue functioning.
U.S. cable providers are also prepared for the millennium, the FCC said. "Year-2000 problems are not likely to cripple cable system operations and it appears that the vast majority of the nation's 65 million cable subscribers will continue to receive a substantial level of cable television service on January 1, 2000," the report said. However, because cable delivery systems receive video from a variety of sources, customers could experience some isolated channel outages.
The majority of large and medium-sized cable operators plan to complete repairs and testing by mid 1999, the FCC said. However, many small operators, which often lack resources and information regarding the year-2000 problem, have testing and rollout dates that extend through December 1999, leaving room for unforeseen problems, the FCC said.
Only 12 satellite broadcasters out of 32 surveyed submitted complete information on their year 2000 programs, so the FCC could not come up with an accurate picture of this industry's preparedness. However, the industry believes it won't be greatly affected by the year-2000 problem, as satellites in orbit are generally believed to be compliant, the FCC said.
While the FCC is pleased with the progress of U.S. telecom operators, it is concerned about the interconnection of U.S. networks with foreign ones, the report said. "The FCC remains concerned about whether enough is being done on a global basis to ensure that there are no significant network disruptions or failures," the report said. Regions seen as high-risk include Central and South America, the Indian Sub-Continent and Sub-Sahara Africa, the FCC said.
In conclusion, the FCC said it is "encouraged by the progress being made by the larger companies to prepare for the year 2000," but remains concerned about progress in smaller companies.
"And whether in telephone, cable, broadcast or wireless, many small companies have not adopted a systematic approach to addressing the year 2000, an approach that we believe is necessary to adequately address the problem," the report said.
The full report can be consulted on the FCC's site on the World Wide Web at http://www.fcc.org/.