Comcast Hits Data Snafus

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Comcast Corp. suffered some snarls during the first week of moving Excite@Home Corp. customers to a new in-house cable-modem service.

After signing an interim $160 million agreement with the bankrupt Excite@Home to maintain service through Feb. 28, the Philadelphia-based Comcast has started shifting its 800,000 customers to its own data network. After Feb. 28, the Excite@Home network will shut down.

Comcast has already moved about 300,000 customers in New Jersey, Michigan, Maryland and Delaware. Most are Excite@Home customers, but there are about 100,000 Road Runner customers in systems Comcast acquired from MediaOne Group Inc.

But as with AT&T Broadband's experiences in early December, it hasn't been entirely smooth going.

About 7,000 customers in Union, N.J., encountered either spotty service, lack of access to electronic mail or service outages. Issues batted around on message boards at DSLreports.com — which monitors broadband-service issues — point to slow speeds and overwhelmed customer-service centers.

Comcast executive vice president Dave Watson said the MSO has switched some 300,000 customers to its own service. Given the size of the task, problems are to be expected.

"We anticipated there would be some issues when we roll out a new network like this. In New Jersey, there is a hardware issue that we did identify. It did result in a service outage for a small pocket of customers," he said.

The New Jersey problem centers on a server hardware problem, and "once we identified the outage issue in New Jersey we jumped on it and we are making good progress," Watson said. "The way I like to look at this is we are building a new house, and when you build a house, you typically have a punch list and you go through these issues.

"We've identified them, worked through the 24-by-7 solving them. The good news for customers is they have been able to keep their @Home service throughout."

Other reported complaints centered on inadequate customer service. Watson said Comcast did beef up its customer contact staff, "however, the nature of the New Jersey outage was such that it was a little different than anything that we had encountered. So we had to do additional diagnostic work."

Comcast mailed conversion disks to customers in northern New Jersey and Michigan, but for the remainder of the transition period it will rely on Internet-based software downloads, Watson added. The plan is to continue to convert customers through January and complete the transition by the first week of February.

Service to at least some customers in Cherry Hill, N.J., was out on Friday morning, Jan. 4. At that point, at least some New Jersey cable-modem customers had not received transition kits in the mail.

A customer-service representative at Comcast's toll-free hotline said Comcast was trying to get service back up within 48 hours, and it would take three to four business days for the kit to arrive.

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