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Olympic reporters want money back

Computer network glitches at the Olympics have at least one group crying foul.

Computer network glitches affecting news organizations at the Olympics have at least one group asking for their money back from organizers of the Summer Games.

The European Broadcast Union has sent a formal letter of protest to the Olympics Committee asking for reimbursement of the $3,300 it paid for computer terminals that were supposed to provide a feed event results. The union, which represents 88 news organizations from 40 countries, paid $250 million for broadcast rights to the Olympics.

The union's head of operations, Jarle Hoeysaeter, says the electronic results system was slow in delivering results. Among other problems, it had complaints about the Info '96 system of interactive kiosks, which connects 1,800 IBM PCs to 80 AS/400 servers. In some cases, lists of competing athletes weren't available for the start of events.

"There has been some improvement...since we wrote the letter, but the system is still not working satisfactorily. We are fully aware that this is a difficult event to stage, and it's not the first time organizers have had problems. I do not remember having had so much of it at same time," Hoeysaeter says, referring also to problems with transporting announcers and reporters.

As reported by CNET, other news organizations were complaining about a different part of the electronic results system called WNPA. The World News Press Agency system has 12 customers who get statistical results delivered to their computers in varying formats.

For its part, IBM, the official technology provider for the Summer Games, offered a written apology to news organizations such as Associated Press, Reuters, and the BBC because of late or inaccurate results they were getting from the WNPA system.

"I am keenly aware that the problems...have posed a complication for your news agency and a concern for your readers. The Olympics are too important...for there to be any uncertainty among the news agencies about the accuracy of the results they are reporting," Dennie Welsh, general manager of IBM's Global Services, said in a prepared statement.

Fred McNeese, an IBM spokesman, quickly noted that the problems are only affecting customers of WNPA. The systems that track the statistical data, scoreboards, and judge's IBM ThinkPads, as well as the Olympics management system are working properly.

"While WNPA is extremely important to its customers, to the millions of people viewing the games throughout the world, it simply is transparent," McNeese said.

Fans of the digital Olympics will judge for themselves what direction IBM has headed in after the biggest test of the system yet: the track and field events Friday. With multiple events running simultaneously, tracking athletes, times, and statistics will provide the biggest hurdle yet for IBM's system.

Track and field is an immensely popular spectator sport in Europe. Any mishaps with reporting will receive heightened scrutiny.

Hoeysaeter says: "We are all anxiously awaiting tomorrow--that is the most important and complex sport to cover. We're nervous."

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