Phone service during crisis holds up, Internet is sporadic

By Mike Benbow

Herald Writer

While local phone systems worked reasonably well after the attacks, people trying to call loved ones on the East Coast or visit their favorite news site on the Internet often couldn’t get through or faced long waits.

“There certainly are more calls crisscrossing the entire country,” said Melissa Barran, spokeswoman in Verizon’s Northwest regional office in Everett.

Barran said local calls increased significantly this morning, but they did not clog the network or cause delays. The call volume had started to subside by late morning.

But she said that people may have experienced a fast busy signal in trying long distance calls – the sign of a clogged network. “There’s no doubt about it, call volumes are way up,” she said.

Cellular phone networks also experienced high call volumes and delays.

In New York, Verizon calls doubled today – rising from the usual 115 million to 230 million, Barran said. “Back east, our network is heavily loaded, but it’s continuing to function,” she said.

“I dial ten times and I’m lucky if two calls go through,” said Chris Harreus, a union shop steward with the Communications Workers of America doing construction in the Newsweek building on 57th Street, more than four miles north of the World Trade Towers. “Service is locking up on cell phones and pay phones.”

The toppled twin towers there contained some Verizon facilities, but there was no major disruption of the company’s network. All 56 Verizon buildings in the city were evacuated and 13,843 workers were sent home.

Sprint said the loss of leased landline equipment under one of the buildings was blocking 75,000 long distance calls. It was assessing the damage to its wireless infrastructure.

“It’s pandemonium,” said Keisha Smithwick, who works at WestCom, a company that maintains dedicated phone lines for financial trading. She was sent home after the attack that destroyed the towers, where most of her company’s clients were located.

Back here in Everett, it was mostly business as usual, but there were extra security precautions, Barran said.

“We are on a heightened security,” she said. “The telecommunications network is more important than ever when a situation like this arises. We’re taking particular precautions in checking the ID’s of employees as they come into our buildings.”

Internet traffic slowed Tuesday and major news Web sites were sometimes difficult to reach as people craving details on the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks went online.

HeraldNet, meanwhile, first posted information about the attack on the World Trade Center at 6:45 a.m. and has been operational throughout the morning, despite traffic 10 times the normal level.

The Internet search engine Google directed news seekers to radio and television. “Many online news services are not available, because of extremely high demand,” a statement read on the popular site’s home page.

America Online’s Instant Messenger service was sporadic in New York.

AOL’s dial-up connections in New York were constantly busy, although the service was reachable by making long-distance calls to Chicago.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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