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Power outage knocks CheckFree offline

More than 15 million people who use the service each month to pay bills are unable to access it after power outage hits data center.

A power outage has disabled CheckFree's online bill payment service, causing its Web site and service to be unavailable, the company said Wednesday.

The problem began Wednesday morning when the power in CheckFree's data center in Norcross, Ga., went out, knocking its computers offline. The utility company restored power later in the day, but CheckFree was still working to bring its systems back up on Wednesday afternoon, said CheckFree spokeswoman Judy Wicks.

"We're bringing the system up in phases," she said.

The company has back-up computer systems, and they "kicked in," Wicks said. But apparently they didn't keep the service up and running.

CheckFree is one of the biggest online bill payment companies in the United States. More than 15 million consumers use its service every month, Wicks said. About 1,600 banks, brokerages and credit unions use CheckFree to deliver "e-bill" services to their customers. Some of them posted notes on their sites notifying visitors of the outage and asking them to return later, Wicks said.

CheckFree plans to fix the problem by the end of the day and does not expect any payment delays as a result of the outage. If payments are delayed, the company will make sure customers aren't charged any late fees, in accordance with its service policy, Wicks said.

Many U.S. consumers have come to rely on the Internet to pay their bills. Nearly 30 percent of consumers use online bill payment services, according to a consumer survey published by American Bankers Association-Gallup last year.

Site outages have recently hit other big Internet companies, including, eBay and Google, according to reports.