At a time when broadband is replacing video as cable's core service, Charter Communications suffered major Internet outages in several markets throughout the US over the weekend, based on what appears to have been a domain name server issue.
There were more than 8,000 reports of Charter Communications Inc. Internet failures on Saturday on the website Downdetector, with more customers posting outage stories through additional online forums including Reddit and DSLReports. There has been speculation that the problem may have resulted from a distributed denial-of-service attack. Network World reported that a subscriber in North Carolina claimed that a Charter customer service representative confirmed that the company's DNS servers were hacked. Charter has not yet responded to a Light Reading request for comment.
Whether or not the outages were the result of an attack, many customers were able to restore Internet access by changing DNS settings and connecting to a domain name server not maintained by Charter. Google Public DNS was a popular choice, while OpenDNS was cited as another alternative.
The Internet outage was half the problem for Charter, but the other half was its customer service management. Many customers complained that they could only get a busy signal when trying to call customer support. Plus, while Charter filled up its Twitter stream with commentary on the Emmy awards, there was no statement posted about the Internet issues until Sunday evening. At that time, Charter posted the following on Facebook and Twitter.
"Our teams report services have been restored following an Internet outage that affected multiple markets across our operating area on Saturday, August 23. Our technical teams are monitoring the network closely and continue to investigate the cause of the issue. Thank you for your patience. If you continue to experience issues, please call our 24/7 support team at 888-438-2427."
Charter's unfortunate outage is magnified at a time when cable operators are being hammered in the press for poor customer service. The Verge recently published a multi-part series of stories based on interviews with more than 150 present and former Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) employees. One big takeaway from that series was that Comcast's organizational structure and sales policies make it difficult for the MSO to improve service performance. That conclusion is a serious indictment when Comcast is proposing to expand and complicate its management system even further through its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). (See Comcast's TWC Coup: 3 Things to Know.)
At the same time, Charter is also planning to take on several new cable markets when Comcast divests itself of customers and swaps markets with Charter in a follow-on agreement to the Time Warner Cable acquisition. (See Comcast to Send Subs to Charter if TWC Deal Closes.)
Making the timing of Charter's outage even worse is the fact that Internet service is arguably becoming more important for the cable industry than traditional TV offerings. For the first time in the industry's 65-year history, the number of cable broadband subscribers now exceeds the number of cable video subscribers in the US. (See For Cable, Broadband Is the New Video.)
Separately, Charter announced on Monday that it is doubling Internet speeds in southern California, along with adding more HD video channels, and other advanced video and voice features. In a press release announcing the news, Charter President and CEO Tom Rutledge said the MSO "is committed to improving the customer experience. That starts by providing the best voice, TV and Internet services possible at the greatest value to our customers."
But, given the weekend problems, many Charter Internet customers might be a bit skeptical about that right now.
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading