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Long-distance carriers step up

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Callers trying to reach relatives or friends in New York City or Washington, D.C., on Tuesday may have had trouble doing so.

AT&T, a long-distance phone service provider, had a record number of call attempts in the wake of the Tuesday tragedies.

AT&T public relations manager Russ Glover said Wednesday that AT&T's national network handled nearly 431 million call attempts Tuesday, topping the previous single-day record by 101 million attempts. During a typical workday, AT&T handles about 300 million long-distance voice calls.

No state-by-state breakdown of the figures was available.

"There was a lot of congestion on the network," Glover said. "A significant number of people likely had to redial one or more times to complete their calls."

Traffic Wednesday was up only 15 percent to 20 percent above the normal level.

The company on Tuesday had asked people to restrict their calling to only essential calls into the New York and Washington areas, but that has been rescinded.

"We did have a huge spike in traffic Tuesday, but our network didn't experience any equipment damage due to the incidents in New York or Washington," Glover said. "We did institute proactive network management procedures, which helps control heavy flow of inbound calls to maximize call completion during emergency situations."

The Qwest Communications International Inc. network also worked fine, according to spokeswoman Caroline Roemer. Qwest is a local phone service provider in Utah.

"Customers may have noticed some trouble accessing long-distance carriers," she said. "We had no real increase in our calls, and the network was working A-OK."

Verizon Communications Inc. said it handled about 340 million calls in New York and Washington on Wednesday, nearly double its normal call volume.

One of Verizon's five switching centers near the site of the disaster was badly damaged and out of service. Some 200,000 lines and 3 million data circuits, private lines that normally serve business customers, are housed in the building.

The facility also provides the New York Stock Exchange with 20 percent of its primary circuits. Another center supplying the stock exchange was getting electricity from generators after commercial power was cut off. Since there was no trading Wednesday, the system has yet to be tested.

Sprint PCS said its long-distance and wireless systems were functioning, but it was working to restore full service, especially in the Manhattan disaster area, where it lost several cell sites.

Meanwhile, telephone companies have made contributions to the relief effort.

Verizon said it would continue to provide free local calls to and from pay telephones on Manhattan streets.

The AT&T Foundation announced that it will donate $1 million to the American Red Cross to support relief efforts in New York and Washington, and AT&T has committed up to an additional $300,000 in funds to match employee donations to the relief efforts.

The company also will donate $10 million in AT&T Prepaid long-distance calling cards for use by relief workers in the two cities and will provide free AT&T long-distance service from all payphones in the affected areas of New York City for the duration of the emergency.

Since Tuesday, AT&T has charged for operator-assisted long-distance calls at direct-dialed rates without the normal surcharge.

AT&T also will offer free e-mail and Internet access through Friday on its AT&T Public Phone 2000i units at airports in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Miami, Dallas and other locations to aid delayed travelers.

Also, AT&T Wireless — which formally split off from AT&T in July — has donated 2,000 cell phones with unlimited service for use by federal, state and local government agencies and relief workers, and it is delivering thousands more to meet the ongoing needs of agencies and relief workers.

Wireless companies including Nextel, AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless have set up mobile cell phone towers in Brooklyn and New Jersey to make up for the diminished capacity throughout Manhattan. Sprint PCS has redirected two working cell transmitters in the disaster area to assist search and rescue efforts.


Contributing: The Associated Press

E-MAIL: bwallace@desnews.com