Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Network glitch prompts creativity

Banks and customers seek ways to counteract MCI WorldCom problems, which may be fixed today.

Paul and Dorothy Welch haven't been able to get their ATM card to work for six days. The only way the Citrus County couple have been able to get cash was to have a friend cash a check for them.

"It's scary," said Dorothy Welch. "It makes you wonder what's going to happen during the millennium. After this experience, we plan to have more cash on hand at New Year's."

The Welches are among thousands of Florida credit union customers whose ATM cards have not been working since an MCI WorldCom network glitch rambled around the country last week. Some ATMs declined to accept some credit union cards, saying the user "should contact their financial institution." Other ATMs accepted some cards sometimes, but not always. MCI WorldCom on Wednesday said the problems hopefully would be fixed by early today.

"We've been able to bring almost all our network back up, but there was still some congestion in the system Wednesday afternoon," MCI WorldCom spokeswoman Linda Laughlin said.

Thousands of customers _ including airlines, credit unions and banks that use the network to send information _ have been affected. Many Internet users also found their e-mail transmissions slowed or rejected because of "system congestion."

MCI WorldCom said the problems began last Thursday when they tried to upgrade a frame-relay network with Lucent Technologies Inc. equipment.

Problems have surfaced and lingered coast to coast, but the worst of them affected Chicago and other large cities including Los Angeles, Boston, New York and San Francisco. The Chicago Board of Trade had major disruptions that shut down electronic futures trading from outside its trading pits earlier this week. The Welchs' credit union is in Illinois, but the retired couple's pension checks are deposited automatically, so they rely on ATMs for their short-term cash needs.

Some Florida credit unions reported their ATM services had been hit by the MCI glitch, too.

"We've had to elevate some customers' offline transaction limits and done some wire transfers for customers," said Melba Jordan, executive vice president of the 27,000-member State Employees Credit Union. "We've gotten our share of complaints but what else could we do? It's a global problem."

At MacDill Federal Credit Union, which has 119,000 members mostly in the Tampa Bay area, some customers had trouble getting transactions authorized at supermarket ATMs.

"We had about 20 calls," said Brad Sears, the credit union's vice president of information services. "It's been sporadic. At times the system wouldn't authorize a transaction, then later it would."

Publix Super Markets Inc. alleviated some problems by rerouting transactions that did not go through a first time to its Honor network. "Usually it works, but sometimes it doesn't," Publix spokesman Lee Brunson said.

As for the Welchs, they are considering a low-tech solution. "We're going to open a checking account with a local bank so this doesn't happen again," Dorothy Welch said.