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MCI glitch hits ATMs, trading of futures

A glitch in MCI WorldCom Inc.'s data transmission network has partially disabled thousands of automated teller machines, though apparently none in Florida, and restricted market trading of corn, soybeans and other financial futures.

The problem at the No. 2 long-distance carrier began late last week during a system upgrade and has disrupted high-speed data service for nearly 30 percent of MCI's global data network customers, spokeswoman Linda Laughlin said Tuesday.

MCI was upgrading network software from Lucent Technologies Inc., a former AT&T Corp. subsidiary, when the system began experiencing problems in large cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

As a result, ATMs nationwide _ and in some cases outside the United States _ have had intermittent trouble dispensing money because the bank machines couldn't communicate with each other, making it impossible to determine the customer's balance. There was no indication any ATMs in Florida were affected although MCI said some e-mail messages in Florida may have been slow as a result.

ATM networks have not been able to determine the number of machines affected because many of the disruptions are only short-term, said Kate Coleman, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based Cash Station, which operates ATMs mainly in the Midwest.

MCI technicians blamed a software problem in the Lucent switches and were working to fix the glitch, spokesman Frank Walter said. He said service was gradually being restored to customers Tuesday night, but he could not estimate when operations would return to normal.

The problem is reminiscent of an outage in AT&T Corp.'s network last April, which affected thousands of corporate customers nationwide. AT&T blamed the outage on problems that occurred during a similar software upgrade.

Chicago Board of Trade president Thomas Donovan issued a stinging rebuke of MCI after the disruption shut down electronic trading terminals worldwide.

Days before the outage, Donovan said he met with executives from the communications company to complain about the quality of service and said he had been promised improvement.

"Despite these assurances, we began experiencing a catastrophic outage because of MCI WorldCom just two days later," Donovan said in a letter Tuesday to members of the world's largest futures exchange.

The CBOT's Project A electronic trading platform allows members to trade futures contracts linked to U.S. Treasuries, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, grains and other commodities. The exchange, which also maintains open outcry trading pits, was able to keep terminals inside the building running through a local network.

The exchange said Project A trading was restored Tuesday afternoon, and that it would add more terminals in the building today if the disruptions continue.

MCI's problems come at a time the company is launching a $100-million program to build data centers and expand its existing facilities in an attempt to lure more customers to its burgeoning data and Internet businesses.

MCI's stock fell $2.31\ to $75.12{ on the Nasdaq market.

_ Times staff writer Mark Albright contributed to this report.