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As the Internet evolves into a ubiquitous communication infrastructure and supports increasingly important services, its dependability in the presence of various failures becomes critical. In this paper, we analyze IS-IS routing updates from the Sprint IP backbone network to characterize failures that affect IP connectivity. Failures are first classified based on patterns observed at the IP-layer; in some cases, it is possible to further infer their probable causes, such as maintenance activities, router-related and optical layer problems. Key temporal and spatial characteristics of each class are analyzed and, when appropriate, parameterized using well-known distributions. Our results indicate that 20% of all failures happen during a period of scheduled maintenance activities. Of the unplanned failures, almost 30% are shared by multiple links and are most likely due to router-related and optical equipment-related problems, respectively, while 70% affect a single link at a time. Our classification of failures reveals the nature and extent of failures in the Sprint IP backbone. Furthermore, our characterization of the different classes provides a probabilistic failure model, which can be used to generate realistic failure scenarios, as input to various network design and traffic engineering problems.