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Comcast customers report migration snags

A new wave of headaches is afflicting the company's high-speed Internet customers, as it struggles to move its former Excite@Home subscribers to a brand-new network.

A new wave of headaches is afflicting Comcast's high-speed Internet customers, as the company struggles to move its former Excite@Home subscribers to a brand-new network.

The cable company, which has 800,000 Excite@Home customers, started changing some of its customers' network connections Thursday. But many of those subscribers have found that their connections have simply gone dead, or are spotty at best, and that technical support is too overwhelmed to help.

Subscribers say support staff--when they could be reached--cited several different problems, but gave no clear indication of when fixes would occur.

"It's not like (the connection) is slow; you can't even get to step one," said Shawn London, a New Jersey subscriber affected by the changeover outage. "Hopefully it will get better. If not, Verizon DSL is looking good."

A Comcast spokeswoman said she had no immediate information on the outage reports or the number of subscribers affected.

The migration is part of the demise of Excite@Home, which just a month ago had 4.1 million customers and controlled about 45 percent of the U.S. home-broadband market. After talks with suitor AT&T broke down, Excite@Home cut off service to 850,000 AT&T cable modem subscribers, and AT&T Broadband rushed to switch the bulk of subscribers over to its own network within 10 days.

In the meantime, Excite@Home negotiated "transitional" agreements with Comcast, Cox Communications and other cable partners to allow them three months to complete the transfer of customers to their networks.

AT&T Broadband, which has moved faster than Comcast to build a new network and move its customers over, has experienced similar problems as customers settle in. Subscribers have complained of slow network connections, inability to access many Web sites, or no service at all.

Other customers have had concerns about the loss of features they've been used to at Excite@Home, such as the ability to use virtual private networks or Usenet newsgroups.

In Comcast's case, subscribers report being told that much or most of the software sent to help the first wave of people change their service over was "broken." Another subscriber said he was told that an old generation of cable modems would not work well with Comcast's new network, and that he would have to replace his modem.

Although both Comcast and AT&T Broadband are shunting customers to independent networks to replace Excite@Home's systems, the two companies on Dec. 20 announced a $72 billion merger. The new company, to be called AT&T Comcast, will have more than 21 million subscribers and access to about 38 million households. Of those, about 2.2 million are broadband subscribers.