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EDITIONS
Friday, 7 June, 2002, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Telecoms chiefs strive to avoid blackout
KPNQwest's network
KPNQwest has Europe's largest fibre-optic network
Trustees of bankrupt KPNQwest are struggling to save the firm's vital telecoms network, and avert the threat of blackout at some of Europe's biggest companies.

Administrators have set a Monday deadline for trustees to find fresh funding for KPNQwest's fibre optic network, Europe's largest, or see it closed.

KPNQwest claims some 100,000 business clients, including US computer giant IBM, Finland's Nokia and European stock exchange Euronext, for its network services.

And KPNQwest's Brussels-based E-Bone network only remained operational after a handful of staff volunteered to keep it running while rescue talks continued.

Emergency plan

A Belgian bankruptcy court had on Thursday ordered the dismissal of all employees at the unit.

"If that [E-Bone] network goes down, internet traffic in Europe could slow down," a source told news agency Reuters.

The firm has sought deals with rival operators to meet the threat of disruption, with Colt on Friday revealing it had signed a deal to provide emergency cover for broadband services.

"This agreement proves that the expertise of our staff and the quality of our network are recognised in the market," Richard Oosterom, Colt's regional managing director, said.

Mystery bidder

KPNQwest's trustees, attempting to find bidders for company assets, are reported to have entered talks with a "major European telecoms firm".

The mystery bidder could take over running the E-Bone network "as early as tonight", the Reuters source said.

A consortium led by US investment bank Lehman is interested in buying KPNQwest's East European assets, the Wall Street Journal said on Friday.

Trustees have also asked KPNQwest clients to pay bills promptly, to underpin the company's immediate cash flow.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Graham Kinsey, former KPNQwest employee
"The size of the network really should attract a buyer overnight"
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