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Another extended outage at Rhapsody locks out some users

Some Rhapsody users are huffing and puffing but the service won't let them in. Second outage since March blocks an unknown number of customers and some are frustrated that the company doesn't know when it will be fixed.

An extended outage at RealNetworks' Rhapsody music service has locked out an unknown number of users for the second time since March.

While the earlier problem prevented some customers from accessing the site for up to two weeks, this time executives don't know when the problem will be corrected. A handful of Rhapsody users complained on the company's message boards this week that they haven't been able to log on since Friday.

"It's a known issue," said Justine Navaja, a company spokesperson. "We don't know yet when it will be fixed, but it's only affecting a small group of users. We're doing what we can to make sure it gets fixed as soon as possible."

RealNetworks, which competes with Yahoo Music, Napster, and other subscription services, isn't saying whether the glitches are related or what caused them.

Meanwhile, Josh Solera, a Rhapsody customer from Boston, worries that unless the company corrects the problem soon, he'll be cut off from his music.

Songs downloaded off of sites like Rhapsody and Yahoo Music, are restricted by digital rights management. Licenses in the song files must be updated and that can only happen if customers are allowed to sync their computers to the service's Web site. If they can't sync within a specified time, then their music automatically locks up.

Solera, a management consultant, joined Rhapsody in October 2006 and downloads all the songs he wants for a monthly fee. On Tuesday, he tried numerous times to log on but only received error messages.

To make amends, Rhapsody issued Solera a two-week subscription credit. That may not be enough to make him happy. He said that a series of less dramatic but annoying technical issues have worn on his patience. He likes his Zen music player but the problems at Rhapsody have almost convinced him to swap it for an iPod.

"If I could get a subscription service from iTunes, I would sign up in a minute," Solera said. "I think a lot of people would."