Next time you have trouble with phone service in the District, consider this: Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Washington held a press conference on Friday to outline its "corporate vision" for the 1990s and show off some of the technology that might help that vision come true. But some of the equipment didn't feel like cooperating.

One of the exhibits was an automatic fiber-optic cable splicing machine, which fuses together the hair-thin glass cables that carry as many phone signals as an old-fashioned copper wire cable several inches thick.

Unfortunately, every time a technician inserted the two pieces of glass to be fused into the machine, it balked. With a roomful of C&P executives and reporters watching and fidgeting, he tried over and over, getting a different error message from the machine's computer brain each time. After about a dozen unsuccessful attempts -- and a couple of pointed comments to the executives about how the older, semi-automatic splicing machines worked better and faster -- the technician muttered, "I've never had this much trouble."

Whereupon C&P President Delano Lewis bailed out the frustrated worker. "We'll move on," Lewis said gently -- and ushered the spectators from the room. -- Margaret K. Webb,Mark Potts and Paul Farhi