Bell Atlantic Fined for Fouling Up Orders

NEW YORK (03/10/2000) - The movement to get regional Bell operating companies into the long-distance arena in more states seemed about to grind to a halt last week, because of problems in an e-commerce platform targeted at the telecom industry.

Bell Atlantic agreed to pay a $3 million fine to the U.S. Treasury and credits of $10 million to local competitors because its electronic trading-partner platform has been losing some of the competitors' orders to switch local customers.

And perhaps more important for the long term, Bell Atlantic conceded that related problems in New York - owing largely to the apparent failure of Bell Atlantic's e-commerce front-end ordering package, ECXpert, to acknowledge many of the orders submitted by competitors - are setting back local-competition work in other states.

A Bell Atlantic spokeswoman confirmed via e-mail that the carrier still has not resumed work on testing its mass-market interfaces with competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC) in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. That work was earlier suspended to devote resources to the New York situation.

Bell Atlantic expects to resume testing "by the end of March," the spokeswoman said. The carrier still hopes to submit a long-distance application for Massachusetts during the summer but now won't submit them for Pennsylvania and New Jersey until late in the third or fourth quarter. The Federal Communications Commission requires that RBOCs prove their local systems can consistently handle large amounts of CLEC orders before granting long-distance authority for a particular state.

Bell Atlantic officials also publicly admitted for the first time last week that they have asked at least some CLECs in New York to move off the ECXpert platform - originated by Netscape and now offered by a Sun-Netscape Alliance called iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions. Bell Atlantic has asked them instead to use a home-grown e-commerce interface called Netlink.

An iPlanet spokesman said that iPlanet personnel have been working with Bell Atlantic "to provide extensive on-site technical support, professional services and recommendations" and make sure CLECs have "the best possible information" about their orders. He declined comment on Bell Atlantic's reported shift to a different platform.

Regardless, Paul Lacouture, president of Bell Atlantic's wholesale network services unit, says that during a period from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, some 9,500 orders were lost. He also says that for 10% of the orders that were received, the system failed to send back acknowledgements to CLECs so that they could notify their customers of the work in progress.

But an advance copy obtained by Network World of a formal complaint that AT&T was set to file with the FCC just before Bell Atlantic agreed to pay the fines paints a grimmer picture.

"Every day, over the course of several hours, [AT&T and Bell Atlantic personnel] work through the individual purchase order numbers on trouble tickets, usually one at a time," the filing says. "This is a tedious, costly and labor-intensive process . . . [then] the Bell Atlantic representative often requests AT&T to resubmit or 'reflow' certain orders because Bell Atlantic is unable to locate them in its systems."

AT&T said that as a result, Bell Atlantic should actually be stripped of its long-distance authority in New York until the problems are resolved. But Tom Tauke, Bell Atlantic's chief lobbyist in Washington, said AT&T was over-reacting.

"These systems are constantly changing," he said. "Just as with any computer or software system, we are always implementing changes to improve and extend the capabilities."

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