How the Bell System Missed the Internet 7

by Colin Berkshire

“The ACS System Has been Faked. It still does not work. It will never work.”

At this point we have a situation where I reported that the ACS system cannot ever work. It is late, hundreds of people have been added to the project, and the demonstration of a working system to the AT&T executives has been a success…albeit entirely faked.

My memorandum documenting that the ACS system was an unworkable disaster was “proven” wrong by the successful executive presentation. My boss is unhappy and my career is tarnished. And, I am left confused because I couldn’t understand how the ACS system was suddenly made to work.

Some research revealed that the entire demonstration was faked. And, i knew how.

I wrote another paper to AT&T management. This one discussed the fraudulent demonstration and how it was accomplished. And, even though it was late at night already, I drove the hour up to AT&T Long Lines headquarters and left a copy of the report on my boss’ desk where it could not be missed. I came home, probably at 4am in the morning.

By mid-morning my AT&T Long Lines boss called me and asked me to come to his office. I did. He then explained that he had read the report and that I was to mention nothing to anybody else about it, and that I was to delete the report from the Bell Labs computer that I had written it on. That was all.

A few days later I was again asked to visit my boss at AT&T Long Lines.

I was informed that my report had been considered. I was being transferred away from Bell Laboratories and would be given a new assignment at AT&T Long Lines. This was effective immediately. I gathered up my stuff at Bell Laboratories and never returned again. My new assignment at AT&T Long Lines consisted of doing research reports which nobody–not even my boss–would ever read.

After a few months of realizing that I had been sidelined I asked my boss why I was sidelined. He stated that when it came to the credibility of me vs that of Bell Laboratories I could not win. For me to accuse Bell Laboratories of organized fraud was so far beyond what was acceptable corporate behavior that I was of no use to his organization. Management at Bell Labs was asked if the executive demo was real and they confirmed that it was. End of story. Nobody traced the wires or looked for the 11/70 on the floor below.

After a few months, I then put in for a transfer to the marketing department, realizing that my engineering career was over. (It wasn’t over, but that is another story.)

Meanwhile, AT&T scaled up ACS and they built the entire ACS Central Office in Chicago. Over the next few months more than $10 Million was spent to wire up and populate this full scale system. Likewise, the staff at Bell Labs was also scaled up and now totaled more than 500 persons.

Over the next year I had one of the most productive periods of my career, working as a technical person in marketing headquarters.

Meanwhile. Bell Laboratories never could get the ACS system to work. They were perennially 3 months from delivering a production system. This continued for several years as the staff as Bell Laboratories grew to more than 1,000 persons.

The Central Office that was built in Chicago was never activated. It was a total loss in the end.

A couple of years later, the ACS project was shut down and a new version of it was started. This project, ACS II was later renamed Net-1000 in 1983. Even then, the project failed terribly. It never acquired more than a few dozen paying customers and had significant technical problems until it was terminated in 1985. (book)

AT&T lost more than a Billion dollars (1980 money) on ACS. More than 90% of that loss was after the faked executive presentation at Bell Laboratories. It was one of the largest economic fiascos in the history of telecommunications. Next and final post in this series: Epilogue

Part 1