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More technical problems for MSN

Problems signing up new members and letting members change their billing options are the latest in a string of snafus suffered by Microsoft's online service.

    The Microsoft Network has attacked its email problems with a vengeance and set about improving its Web-based network. But no matter how hard it tries, it just can't seem to escape those dreaded "technical difficulties."

    From Monday evening at about 7 p.m. PT to about 3 a.m. PT today, MSN was unable to accept new member sign-ups. And currently, members can't change their billing options over the phone, although they can do it online.

    In the grand scheme of things, these problems are so minor that some might not even consider them worth mentioning.

    Except that MSN, the flagship online service of one of the most powerful technology company in the world, had the same problem about two weeks ago. And that came on the heels of a major billing snafu in which customers were sent back bills all at once for several months of service.

    The problems come as MSN is rolling out the latest version of its service. All in all, it is planning to send out 10 million CD-ROMs to get current members to upgrade and, it hopes, new members to sign onto the service.

    A few million CD-ROMs have been sent out, but the majority of the 10 million have not yet been shipped, said Ed Graczyk, lead product manager for MSN. And that's a good thing for MSN.

    While past glitches, including severe email problems under MSN's old system, have impacted its users, this week's problems only hit a small number of members wanting to change their billing options. Where it really hurts MSN is in the pocketbook, as new members were prevented from signing up for service.

    The problems all stem from an internally developed billing system, Graczyk said.

    But MSN is working around the clock to fix it. "It's been resolved to a big extent," Graczyk said. "Members should be able to do everything they want to do."