AT&T Offers Free @Home In Problem-Plagued Calif.

Publish date:
Updated on

Baffled by continuing problems with its Excite@Home
cable-modem systems in Northern California, AT&T Broadband & Internet Services has
offered several months of free service to 1,000 area subscribers.

The AT&T Corp. unit said that in response to
complaints, it credited users for service from May 1 -- when the TCI@Home service launched
locally -- through Sept. 30 in six Bay-area cities.

They include Silicon Valley bastions Cupertino and
Milpitas, where the service has experienced persistent slowdowns and outages.

While the company has offered refunds on an individual
basis to disgruntled customers in other markets that experienced problems, AT&T
Broadband moved more aggressively in the Bay area because system snafus there appeared to
be more pervasive, spokeswoman LaRae Marsik said.

Excite@Home has not isolated the cause of the Bay-area
problems, which AT&T spokesman Andrew Johnson characterized as a variety of anomalies
affecting customers in different ways.

The company will recertify the cable plant in all of the
affected cities -- including Los Gatos, San Mateo, Belmont and San Carlos -- and explore
other possible causes at the headend or with the standards-certified modems being used by

The Bay-area service issue comes at a significant time for
AT&T as it continues absorbing cable systems acquired in its buyout of
Tele-Communications Inc.

AT&T promised its partners in @Home that it would meet
more aggressive subscribership quotas to make up for TCI's failure to meet previous
targets. The company is also on the verge of migrating TCI's properties to its highly
valued AT&T brand.

"We want to show perhaps that the perceptions of the
TCI of old are no longer wholly accurate," Marsik said of the refunds.

The freebies follow a year in which Excite@Home has
frequently been the target of complaints by users in a number of markets about such issues
as poor customer service and substandard system performance due to high packet loss.

The bad publicity recently extended to the so-called
OnAdvantage program that limits upstream speeds to 128 kilobits per second. Excite@Home
has implemented OnAdvantage on a market-by-market basis while it explores possibly adding
a second, higher-priced service tier offering greater speed to those who want it.

Excite@Home said the 128-kbps limit was intended to curb
abuses, such as subscribers running bandwidth-gobbling gaming servers from their accounts,
and it would not affect 99 percent of users.

Spokesman Matt Wolfrom also said system performance has
improved in markets where OnAdvantage launched.

But a number of customers complained in semipublic fashion
-- via message boards and @Home gripe sites on the World Wide Web -- that the company is
pulling a bait-and-switch: signing up subscribers with promises of bandwidth up to 100
times faster than dial-up connections, then reducing upstream speeds.

"In 40 years, I've never encountered a business so
abysmally inept at customer support, billing, technical services and general business
practices as TCI@Home," wrote "Mike," who identified himself on a ZDNet
message board as a Silicon Valley management-information-systems manager.

"Now, they plan on reducing what little service
they've delivered in order to sell it to others at higher prices," he added.