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US power brown-out causes Net, phone chaos

Chain reaction

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A severe power outage affecting the north eastern United States, Canada and the mid-west has left many web sites either down or experiencing DNS problems, and knocked out sections of the cellphone networks.

Flights to and from eleven airports, including New York, Toronto and Ottowa, were halted, while New York's public transportation system and downtown offices ground to a halt. Although four nuclear power stations in NYC were shut down, deprived of the electricity they need to produce electricity, stock exchanges in the US and Canada continued to function on emergency power and in Manhattan a store was reported to be letting in shoppers "one at a time", aided by a flashlight and candles.

At time of writing, Internet Traffic Reports website, which monitors IP data flows, showed higher response times and greater packet loss than usual.

It isn't the first time that the grid has failed to isolate an incident, with a chain reaction - believed to be at Niagara in New York State - caused a chain reaction over a wide area.

On the NANOG (North American network operators) mailing list, Scott Bethke asked:

"Am I the only one who is surprised that here we are now - over seven years later - and the electric grid industry still hasn't found/implemented a design fix for this problem? What does the FERC and the DOE do anyway? Do they just "regulate" prices? (Yeah, they did such a good job with E! and we in California will be paying for it for many years to come.) I kinda thought the whole point of having federal departments and commissions to oversee energy was to assure the country of a *reliable* energy system."

The notorious North American cellphone system failed in several areas, including downtown Manhattan. If as few as one in three cellphone users make a call at once, the network can suffer.

Is this why? "Design decisions regarding quality are made intuitively and the success of the outcome depends on how well the engineers negotiate with management. This is a sloppy way to run a business and it disintegrates when decisions need to be made with regard to multiple overlaid technologies and classes of service," John Arpee notes in this paper. ®

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