A group of more than 50 telecommunications providers have agreed to a massive $1.5 billion dollar project for a high-speed, 22,000-mile trans-Atlantic fiber-optic network linking five European countries and the United States. Intended to greatly reduce delays experienced over the Internet in general and the World Wide Web in particular, the cable is the result of an ambitious initiative originally signed by 11 of the world's biggest telecommunications companies. That consortium, which originally included AT&T, MCI, Sprint, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, British Telecom, Cable & Wireless, KPN Telecom NV, Pacific Gateway Exchange, Swisscom and Telia, has grown in a global coalition of more than 50 companies. While most of the cable's 640 gigabit capacity will be dedicated to Internet service, about 20 percent will be used to carry nearly 8 million simultaneous telephone conversations. Meanwhile, a somewhat smaller but no less ambitious project has been signed that will link the United States and Japan via a 13,000-mile, 80-gigabit cable. That order, worth an estimated $1.15 billion, was signed by 33 telecommunications companies, 12 of which have agreed to invest $51 million each. The remaining expense will be shared by 21 smaller companies. Another 21 carriers have agreed to take a share in the undersea cable. Both networks, which will be installed by Japan's Kokusai Denshin Denwa and three other contractors, are expected to be operational before 2001. Apple Patches iMac Apple iMac owners who discovered that their new machines couldn't print have been given a fix by Apple Computer. The problem, which was limited to Epson 600 printers, was caused by a slight problem with Apple's implementation of the increasingly popular universal serial bus (USB) peripheral port. Though the iMac is the first Apple product to use USB, Apple reports that all Macintosh computer systems will feature the bus in coming years. Apple says that the iMac Update 1.0 software includes overall improvements to the USB software drivers and recommends that every iMac customer install the update. However, only iMac customers using USB devices in addition to the Apple USB keyboard and Apple USB mouse originally included with their iMac will notice any sort of improvement after installation. Though the 1.0 patch is specifically intended to solve problems between iMac and Epson 600 printers, users will need to install it in order to make the iMac work with other Epson USB printers as they become available. In addition, customers who purchase the new printers also will have to download drivers to the manufacturer's Web site. While there was only one complaint about the update in the Apple iMac forum at www.apple.com, in which a user said his Hewlett-Packard printer had developed problems immediate after the patch was applied, several other users expressed concerns that adapters needed to make non-USB equipped printers work with their iMacs were more expensive than the printers themselves. In many cases, iMac owners have had to jump though a difficult series of hoops in order to get these devices to work properly.