Voice mail can be annoying. But some callers to one District agency were asked yesterday to, "Please leave a voice mail message for six million, seven hundred ten thousand, five hundred fifty megats."
People calling some District offices yesterday and Monday were greeted with bizarre computer voices or dead lines, among other glitches affecting a new city-run phone system that is replacing service through Verizon.
District officials say 911 emergency services have been successfully transferred to the new system, called DC-NET. But the office of D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) was out of communication with the outside world off and on Monday. So was the office of council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), whose calls went to the office of council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4).
"It is definitely a major hiccup,'' Fenty said.
At times, Fenty said, his office staff used cell phones to communicate.
Fenty, a BlackBerry enthusiast, said he received no BlackBerry e-mails for three days. "And then they all came at once yesterday," he said. "It went nonstop for an hour."
A member of the chief financial officer's staff, experiencing a different problem, was forced to communicate by e-mail because the phone wasn't working. Staff members in the office of Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) couldn't transfer calls.
There were lots of annoyed people.
"Finally, an excuse for District government unresponsiveness,'' said a council aide, who commented on condition that he not be identified.
Vince Morris, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said the system's introduction has been a success for the most part and has resulted in only spotty outages and few complaints.
"The outages lasted a few hours, a day at the most," Morris said.
Morris said the rollout at the Wilson Building was just the latest in a series of transfers to the system that began last year. He said the transfer of phones for the D.C. Council and other offices was scheduled for a slow summer weekend to minimize the disruption. The council is on recess.
Morris said he called Catania's office yesterday to make sure the phones were working.
When completed, the city-owned network will connect about 400 government buildings with fiber-optic lines threaded through underground pipes. Officials said the District needs a fiber-optic network because the existing copper-wire network does not meet the city's emergency response needs. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, for instance, the system was overloaded, they said.
The District has budgeted $66 million to start up DC-NET but expects to save more than $10 million a year by owning as network instead of leasing from Verizon, Morris said.
The process of transferring the city's 20,000 phone lines is about half finished. City officials expect the process to be completed by early next year.