title: Will we be able to restore in the future?


by: Scott Bradner


Verizon did an amazing job of partial restoration after September 11th.  Their switching center at 140 West St. in New York City was damaged and the switching equipment went down when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. But will Verizon. or any other telecommunications company, be ready to do the same sort of thing in the future?


The Verizon center at 140 West St. is the telecommunications hub of lower Manhattan.  From it, Verizon serves (or served) 4.5 million data circuits and 300,000 phone lines. In addition a number of other telecommunications companies interconnected with Verizon's lines at 140 West St.  Within a week of the collapse Verizon was able to pull together the resources, people, equipment and supplies, to restore service to the New York Stock Exchange and to some other customers.  It is still working on restoring service to many other locations.


That Verizon was able to do this is a legacy of decades of regulated monopoly operation.  It had enough people to call upon to do the work and enough equipment and supplies (such as fiberoptic cable) stockpiled to make the work possible because the regulators supported the costs of the people and stockpiles in the rate structures Verizon was permitted to charge. It is scary to contemplate what the readiness would be in a purely competitive environment.  It costs a lot of money to be ready for disasters, money that makes it harder to compete with other companies that might not invest the same in preparedness.


There is a network architecture factor here also.  The telephone network tends to be designed with relatively few big switching centers because they are more efficient.  If one of these centers is put out of commission, as 140 West St. was, large numbers of customers are impacted.  A more distributed network design with many more smaller switching centers would not be as efficient but fewer customers would be impacted by the failure of a switching center.


The original design of the Internet took this into account.  One of the early design goals was survivability in the face of damage.  (See, for example, Paul Baron's work from 1964 at http://www.rand.org/publications/RM/RM3420/.) There has been some move towards centralization in Internet service providers but the redundant design of ISP networks tends to mitigate the effect of any specific outage.


The basic question for the future, both for the traditional telecommunications companies and ISPs is one of incentives.  What types of incentives are needed to ensure that the network designs are outage resistant and that the providers maintain adequate stockpiles of equipment and supplies, and that there are enough human resources to respond to an outage, a natural one like a hurricane or a man made one?  And who is going to provide the incentives in this era of deregulation?


Telecommunications networks, including the Internet, are a foundation for much of our economy and society, doing things in the most efficient way may not be the best for us.


disclaimer: Harvard understands that efficiency may not always be the best path but the above is my path.