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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Internet fears over WorldCom scandal
Fibre-optic cable and the WorldCom logo
WorldCom's $3.8bn (2.5bn) accounting scandal could deal serious damage to the workings of the internet, some experts are warning.

About 40% of internet traffic uses WorldCom's network at some point.

Technology consultancy Gartner Group is worried that a collapse at WorldCom - following difficulties at rivals including Carrier1, Global Crossing and KPNQwest - could prove disastrous.

The situation for WorldCom customers is "not dire - yet", Gartner said in a note to clients on Thursday.

But it warned that the massive staff cuts the stricken company is planning will devastate service quality.

"Enterprises should therefore make contingency plans," it advised.

Severe disruption

The worst case scenario could include major hold-ups for manufacturing around the world, thanks to today's "just in time" stock-keeping.

Industrial firms now keep only enough parts in stock for a few hours or days, arranging delivery over internet hook-ups with suppliers.

The UK is a bigger problem to solve than the international connection

Tim Kidd
Ukerna

This means a disruption in the internet service could severely affect the supply flow.

WorldCom's domination of the world's internet service is the result of its purchase of UUNet in 1996, at the height of the company's acquisitive stampede.

Four years later, an attempt to merge with phone giant Sprint was blocked, setting in motion a domino-toppling collapse in the company's valuation as its finances came under close scrutiny.

Now both its internet traffic support and its WorldCom International unit, which supplies data and voice services to large corporations, face cuts which could affect the internet at large, according to Gartner.

Competitors circling

Admittedly, the internet's massive, decentralised nature means that the loss of a slice of capacity - even one as big as WorldCom's - should still leave other routes available to most destinations.

WorldCom network map for Americas and Europe
WorldCom's wires are a key segment of the net
But the result would still be huge congestion and a widespread slowdown, hitting users worldwide and risking cutting off the connections between the systems of organisations relying on WorldCom and those of the rest of the world.

Still, the internet side of WorldCom remains profitable, and is likely to be bought by competitors should the opportunity arise.

Former managers at Pipex, the UK side of UUNet, are preparing a buyout bid in case the opportunity should arise.

Out of the frying pan...

In the UK, one potential victim of any WorldCom meltdown is Ukerna, which runs the JANET network used by UK universities.

Its original network supplier was KPNQwest, the Netherlands-based operator which went bust earlier this year.

KPNQwest's network has come close to a complete shutdown on numerous occasions, so Ukerna decided it had to switch.

Unfortunately, it chose to switch to WorldCom, and its product services director Tim Kidd told UK IT news website Silicon.com that while links to the rest of the world were not too difficult to replace, finding an alternative for JANET's domestic UK traffic was a different story

"The UK is a bigger problem to solve than the international connection," he said.

"It's a big network. We have nothing in place at the moment other than WorldCom, and I wouldn't like to say when something would be in place," said Mr Kidd.

WorldCom

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