Telecommunications: Failing to Connect

A major telephone outage sparks questions about the integrity of AT&T's network and its role in air-traffic control

The first sign of trouble came at about 5 p.m. last Tuesday, when a computer display that monitors telephone traffic at AT&T's nerve center in Bedminster, N.J., flashed from blue to magenta. Within hours, millions of consumers were seeing red too.

The problem: an electric-power failure at an AT&T switching center had knocked out the company's long-distance telephone service to more than 1 million customers in the New York City area. Thousands were stranded at airports and inside planes on runways because the outage severed communications links between air-traffic controllers and airline pilots. By 10 p.m., more than 500 planes were...

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