The overall structure of the internet will successfully handle year 2000 dates, but the Web community has so many members that local Y2K failures may occur, internet experts and government officials say.
"The good news is that the basic foundation of the internet is expected to be ready for the new millennium," says John Koskinen, chairman of the [US] President's Council on Year 2000, which is responsible for coordinating the federal government's efforts to address the Y2K problem.
"But the vast number of networks and companies involved in providing services to users makes it impossible to guarantee that someone, somewhere won't experience temporary problems caused by the date change," Koskinen adds.
The council sponsored a roundtable in July about the Y2K readiness of the internet, and more than 100 internet-related organisations and businesses participated. They discussed challenges to core internet services, and considered ways to give consumers more information on service providers' readiness.
"There are more than 5000 internet service providers in the US alone," says Jason Zigmont, board member of the ISP Consortium, which represents about 300 providers worldwide. "And what we have now is a lack of information on how ISPs are preparing for Y2K problems. Information sharing is the key for the success of the internet."
ISPs' Y2K clearinghouse
ISPs are encouraged to post information about their Y2K efforts on their Web pages and on Nety2k, a Web site sponsored by internet organisations that promote Y2K awareness.
"Customers concerned about the Y2K readiness of their ISP should check providers for information on their contingency plans," Zigmont says. "If the ISPs have no Y2K information posted, users may wish to contact them by telephone."
Because the internet works on a decentralised basis, it has and should continue to operate even if individual network points fail, internet experts emphasise.
"Customers who lose access on January 1, 2000, understandably might think that the entire internet crashed," says Barbara Dooley, president of the Commercial internet Exchange Association, a trade organisation of ISPs and internet-related businesses. "But it won't. Hopefully, their problems will be limited in duration and severity like those that periodically occur every day."
Disruptions could result from problems in the telephone networks upon which ISPs depend, power failures, use of non-compliant software, and other non-internet factors, Dooley says.
"Internet businesses have being working long and hard to prevent these kinds of problems," she says. "I'm confident that those [organisations] which have lagged in their preparations will respond to market forces and their customers' demands for uninterrupted connectivity."