Excessive e-mail volume and a resulting server upgrade left
Cablevision Systems Corp.'s "Optimum Online" cable-modem customers with
spotty or nonexistent e-mail for more than one week.
The outages, which were not publicly announced by the
company, left some users questioning the MSO's level of customer service, with many
resorting to furious diatribes posted on Internet newsgroups.
"For what they charge us, and for signing a two-year
contract, this service should work, and if it doesn't, they should let us know,"
said one Syosset, N.Y., subscriber who asked to remain anonymous. "We shouldn't
have to call. I think the real problem is [that Cablevision] is acting like a cable
company. They just aren't Internet people."
A Cablevision spokeswoman said the company was aware of the
e-mail service interruptions, and it was working on rectifying the problems, which also
affected newsgroups, but not Web-page access.
Failing to notify customers and a nine-day wait between
first reports of the outage and its resolution could pose problems, said Mike Paxton, an
industry analyst for Cahners In-Stat Group's (a sister company to Multichannel
News) converging-markets and technology division.
"Realizing they have a problem but not telling their
customers sounds suspiciously like the old model of cable-TV customer service,"
Paxton said. "Hopefully, Cablevision will turn this into a learning experience so it
doesn't happen again."
The outage was caused by an extraordinary influx of new
customers, said Carlo Chinchilla, a Cablevision technical-support person. The high demand
crippled the e-mail server, which also serves as the MSO's news server.
"There's just too much traffic," Chinchilla added.
Cablevision had 31,474 Optimum Online subscribers as of
Sept. 30. Paxton said the MSO increased its customer base by 40 percent to 44,000
customers in less than three months.
The increase was fueled by an in-store retail promotion
Cablevision launched in late November in its own The Wiz consumer-electronics stores. The
MSO began selling self-installing 3Com Corp. cable modems in eight stores in New York and
Connecticut, offering $200 rebates to customers who bought the $299 modems.
Although Cablevision hasn't released sales figures,
the in-store retail promotions have been extremely successful, according to industry
Paxton confirmed that demand for cable-modem services this
season was strong and may have taken Cablevision by surprise.
A company spokeswoman wouldn't confirm the subscriber
growth or if that increase contributed to its loss of e-mail service. But she did say that
the company was happy with its retail program, and it would continue to upgrade service
ahead of demand.
"In order to provide Optimum Online customers with the
highest-quality service, we are reconfiguring the existing server and increasing server
capacity," she said. "Significant improvements are expected shortly."