ROME'S AUTHORITIES have put a unique spin on Y2K phobia, arguing that the city's backwardness is an asset in avoiding New Year's Eve chaos.

The capital's millennium bug co-ordinating committee has announced that everything is "under control" and Romans and tourists alike can look forward to trouble-free millennium celebrations. This is because Rome is "much less dependent on complex, interconnected computer systems than other cities".

Water still flows into the city along aqueducts built by the ancient Romans. Refuse disposal, drainage, public transport and other utilities are still lo-tech operations and most Italians still pay their rent and bills in cash: in part because of a distrust of banks and in part to avoid the taxman.

The only area where the "happy to be backward" argument doesn't hold up is in telecommunications: Italians love their mobile phones. But Telecom Italia said it was confident that these precious devices would continue to trill incessantly as Romans welcome in the new millennium.

Frances Kennedy