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Thursday, January 21, 1999 Published at 15:37 GMT

Business: The Company File

Utilities 'heading for bug-free 2000'

Gas companies say supplies are not at risk

Gas, electricity, water and telephone regulators say they are making good progress in the battle to beat the millennium bug.

Doom-mongers have predicted that the problem, also known as Y2K, will lead to global computer meltdown as systems programmed with two-digit dates fail to recognise the year 2000.

But a conference organised by Action 2000 - the government campaign to beat the 2000 bug - was told that the utilities were "in good shape" and that no-one would be left without crucial services.

Phones 'ready by September'

Speaking at the Action 2000 National Infrastructure Forum, Oftel's Director of Operations, Anne Lambert, said 90% of the telephone sector would be compliant by mid-1999, with the remaining 10% achieving compliance by September.

[ image: Action 2000: Campaigning for bug-free Britain]
Action 2000: Campaigning for bug-free Britain
This means 95% of fixed phone lines will be millennium-ready by the middle of the year and 100% will be fixed by the end of September 1999.

Ms Lambert said the four mobile operators would also be year 2000 compliant by the end of June.

"There has been an unprecedented sharing of knowledge, expertise and resources to create an industry-wide approach to Y2K," she said.

However, Oftel could not guarantee customers' own equipment or that non-UK networks will be bug-free.

"There is...the question of the readiness of networks in other countries and we are working with international bodies on this question," she said.

Gas, electricity 'well advanced'

The gas and electricity industries also said they were well prepared. Peter Carter, Deputy Director General of Electricity Supply, told the conference that gas suppliers Transco and Siemens Metering Ltd were "well advanced" in fixing Y2K.

"In electricity the independent assessment is initially targeting the 20 or so major players in the electricity sector, the major generators, transmission and distribution companies. With about half the assessments complete findings are that these companies are well on their way," he said.

He said some tests had not been completed but companies had said they would be Y2K compliant by the second quarter of this year.

Business as usual for water

The water regulator, Ofwat, said it would make sure that the water and sewerage companies maintained services to customers in the year 2000.

Ofwat said it had assessed the water industry's readiness to deal with the millennium bug as "amber" on the Action 2000's "traffic lights" measuring scale.

All the water companies in England and Wales are making progress towards "blue" said Roger Dunshea, assistant director and head of operations at Ofwat.

"[The water industry] is moving towards the position where all the companies can satisfy the regulator that there will be no material disruptions to services for customers. Ofwat will continue to monitor the progress of companies closely," he said.

'Still much to do'

Action 2000 chairman Don Cruickshank expressed surprise at the "positive results" but said companies should not be complacent.

"There is still much to do, as we have not given a complete green light to say that everything will be all right, as that would be foolish," he said.

"The next stage is to look at contingency planning and to link up with the emergency services, which will take place at the next conference, in the spring."

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