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Glitch tarnishes debut of new Excite@Home service

Many subscribers of Excite@Home's high-speed Internet service have trouble accessing the new version of the company's ballyhooed start-up screen.

Many subscribers of Excite@Home's high-speed Internet service had trouble accessing the new version of the company's ballyhooed start-up screen today due to technical difficulties.

Customers of the @Home cable-modem service, which has more than 1.2 million customers, expected today to try the new @Home 2000 interface, an updated portal with customizable Web content, complex graphics and other services designed for speedy Net connections. Excite@Home is counting on the service--which it has dubbed "the easiest and most powerful available"--to expand its presence in the broadband market.

But many subscribers could not access the new service today.

"The new site has only been partially accessible all day," customer Joe Walko of Louisville, Ky., wrote in an email to CNET "Response time is horrible. I'm disappointed that Excite@Home could botch the @Home2000 rollout so badly."

Excite@Home spokeswoman Alison Bowman tonight confirmed the glitch. "We had some performance issues today with the rollout of service," she said. "It prevented some customers from using the service."

Bowman stressed, however, that users could still surf the Web, send email and access other Web sites. She estimated that about 15 percent of Excite@Home?s customers who accessed the network were affected by the problem and that it had been resolved by tonight.

The glitch, which lasted throughout the day, stemmed from "a server issue and software glitch," Bowman said, without elaborating.

AT&T, Excite@Home's largest shareholder, also said it was aware of the issue. "AT&T@Home acknowledges that we're having problems with the new @Home 2000 service," said Andrew Johnson, a spokesman for AT&T's cable division. "The nature of the reports vary community by community."

The company announced the arrival of the new service last month after nearly a year of development.

The new @Home 2000 represents one of the first tangible benefits of the merger between @Home Network and Excite, which was billed as a marriage of high-speed connections and compelling multimedia content.

Today?s snafu comes as AT&T, the nation's largest cable company, agreed last week to take greater control over the management of Excite@Home. The Net access company has equity ownership and management input from several cable operators, including Comcast and Cox Communications.

AT&T's move was viewed as an effort to bring stable leadership to Excite@Home, a company that leads the race for high-speed, or broadband, connections despite a handful of missteps.

Last year, AT&T offered five months of free service to some users in the San Francisco Bay Area after they experienced poor service and slow download speeds. Excite@Home also has had prior network problems in Hartford, Conn., and Fremont, Calif.

"I've been an @Home user for almost two years, and if they would have launched it without any bugs I truly would have been surprised," said James Malone, a student in Fremont. "@Home has had its share of problems."

Other users also voiced complaints.

"They are having a ton of problems," said Robert Scheib, a 14-year-old student and Cox@Home subscriber in Phoenix. "Worst off for @Home is that the new content page, which is at the heart of @Home 2000, has been down since 3 a.m...So far I'm not very pleased with it."

Like others, Scheib said his service has since returned.