Netcom accident cuts access to 400,000

Tim (
Fri, 21 Jun 1996 17:11:52 -0700

By Alex Lash
June 21, 1996, 4:15 p.m. PST

In a flip of the proverbial switch, the Internet
lifeline for 400,000 users disappeared in an
incident that illustrates how frail the Net-based
communications network really is.

Internet service provider Netcom's 400,000-plus
subscribers found themselves with no access
for 13 hours from late Tuesday afternoon to early
Wednesday morning because of a network
outage resulting from human error.

The outage was caused by a Netcom programmer in San
Jose, California, who entered an
incorrect command and let too much traffic in,
overwhelming the nationwide ISP's
point-of-presence servers and hub routers. Netcom was
eventually forced to close the system,
leaving users without email, Web access, or any other
Internet services. There was no loss of
data, as email caught in limbo either bounced back to
the original sender or was held in the
system until access was restored, a Netcom official said.

In the wake of the shutdown, Netcom's stock fell $4.50
on Thursday to $28.75, the same price
it closed at today.

Company officials did not specify how many businesses
were affected, but more than 20
percent of Netcom revenue comes from business users, a
figure expected to rise as Netcom
focuses on businesses and experienced users, as well
as foreign markets, in its future expansion

The outage primarily affected the ISP's evening users,
but the possibility of network downtime
during peak business hours has left businesses
wondering how they can cope with ISP failures
as they rely more than ever on electronic information
exchange over an ever-increasingly
crowded network.

For example, Mann Consulting, a multimedia development
company in San Francisco, depends
on the Internet to ship software to Hollywood studios
and film crews around the world that
allows computer screens to be filmed without visual
interference. The company uses the Internet
to link to remote locations on a temporary basis.

Mann, like other companies that can't afford any
downtime, routes around his main ISP's
outages by maintaining alternate Internet accounts
with other providers. "We've had ISPs lose
entire Web sites' worth of data. We assume failure and
build around it," said Alex Mann,
company principal. "We have among us eight or nine
accounts. That's even getting down into
individuals' AOL accounts. You don't keep a movie crew

As if to underscore the reliability problems Internet
companies are facing, America Online
members on the same day as the Netcom snafu were left
without email for about an hour due to
a software problem. Furthermore, technicians will shut
down the Microsoft Network web site
and online service for up to 24 hours starting at 11
p.m. on Saturday night for a power supply
upgrade. Subscribers will be able to access the
Internet, but incoming email will be held and
delivered when the system is back on line.

Netcom is looking into upgrading its router software,
a move that wouldn't prevent future
network floods but could at least slow down the
mushrooming effect that finally overwhelmed
the system.

Netcom has grown significantly in the past year, with
a subscriber increase of 243 percent in the
12 months ending March 31, including 83,500 new
subscribers in the first three months of this
year alone.

The foulup comes at a time when the competition in the
network access market is fierce. While
scores of new users sign up every day, many analysts
are predicting behemoths like AT&T and
the Baby Bells who have the infrastructure to
accomodate ever-increasing Net traffic will either
drive smaller, independent ISPs like Netcom and PSINet
out of business or swallow them up in


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