VOIP services

Comcast Suffers VOIP, Broadband Outages

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), the nation's biggest broadband provider, appears to be running into a rash of outages with its broadband and VOIP services in the Northeast U.S. this month, to judge from subscriber complaints.

In the latest incident, new Comcast Digital Voice customers in New Jersey reported problems with their VOIP service earlier today after the MSO completed what it termed "routine maintenance" on its cable plant last night. Subscribers said they lost phone service for several hours as Comcast technicians scrambled to locate the problem.

Patrick MacElroy, a Comcast spokesman, said some New Jersey cable phone customers "might have experienced intermittent outages" this morning after system engineers finished their maintenance work. But, downplaying the outages, he stressed that company technicians cleared up the problems by early afternoon.

Subscribers, however, said the outages were just the latest in a string of service glitches since Comcast began offering VOIP service in the Garden State late last year. Fed up with the problems, at least one customer said she would change her phone provider to rival Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) after signing up with Comcast for just three months.

"It's out all the time," says Jennifer Patricio, a Comcast data and voice customer in Montclair, N.J., who said she has lost phone service five times since July. "We're switching back to Verizon… We never had any problems with Verizon."

Patricio said a Comcast customer service representative told her that VOIP outages hit a total of about 58,000 customers Wednesday. But MacElroy, while declining to say the exact amount of customers affected, pooh-poohed that number. "It was definitely not 58,000," he says.

If outages like these are indeed widespread or occurring frequently, it could easily put a crimp in Comcast's surging VOIP growth. The MSO just announced last month that it has signed up 1 million IP phone customers throughout the country in less than two years, including more than 75,000 in New Jersey over the past year.

The New Jersey VOIP outages come just two weeks after Comcast ran into similar glitches with its high-speed Internet service in the Pittsburgh area. Cable modem subscribers in at least three Pittsburgh neighborhoods lost their broadband Web service for at least one day Oct. 9 as the MSO started switching about 200,000 former Adelphia Communications cable customers over to its broadband network.

Comcast spokeswoman Jeanne Russo declined to say how many cable modem subscribers were affected by the outage, which cut off broadband, but not video, service. She stressed that "the vast majority" of subscribers had service up and running by the next day. "We were able to resolve the situation quickly," she says.

Russo blamed the Pittsburgh problem largely on the age of the Adelphia plant, which is older than most of Comcast's largely upgraded cable systems. Comcast took over the large urban system in late July after completing the joint purchase of Adelphia's cable systems with Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) in late July.

The spokeswoman also noted that the Pittsburgh system is the first cable system that Comcast sought to convert over from Adelphia's operations since consummating the purchase.

"It's a very complex process transitioning one system to another," she says. Since then, she said, Comcast has switched over former Adelphia cable systems in the rest of Pennsylvania and southeast Florida, among other areas, with no service problems.

— Alan Breznick, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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