Y2K Visionary Predicts Small Businesses Will Learn Hard Way

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NEEDHAM, Mass. -- As the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office could no doubt attest, the very best of ideas sometimes go down in a blaze of obscurity. The Y2K Service Corps may be such a candidate.

The brainchild of David Eddy, a former programmer credited with coining the term 'Y2K,' the Service Corps would have sent teams of technicians knocking on the doors of small- and medium-sized businesses to assess and provide technical help for their Y2K-related needs.

In Eddy's vision, the corps would employ inner-city youth, retirees and college students, mirroring the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s by providing important work to unemployed citizens. These trained technicians would provide essential information to small businesses that cannot afford to pay independent contractors to assess their Y2K exposure, recommend a course of action, fix the problems and monitor their progress.

The hitch in Eddy's plan was financing. He had hoped to underwrite the corps with contributions from utilities and large product and service corporations, who he felt had a natural interest in the sustainability of their small-business customers. No deal.

'The idea didn't go anywhere. It just died,' said Eddy, who now markets software maintenance products.

While the potential computer-related problems that small and medium-sized businesses face come Jan. 1, 2000, has been recognized by both government and industry associations, most small businesses simply have not paid attention to the millennium bug, Eddy said.

President Clinton signed a bill earlier this year that extended loan guarantees to businesses interested in upgrading their systems, but according to the Small Business Administration, just 61 Y2K Action Loans totaling $4.5 million have been made.