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Excite@Home outage persists in Midwest

Customers in the Midwest have been affected by an outage that continues to persist for some subscribers.

    Customers of Excite@Home's high-speed Internet service in the Midwest have been affected by an outage that continues to persist for some subscribers, the company confirmed Friday.

    A hardware failure in Excite@Home's Illinois regional data center, one of 23 facilities nationwide that shuttle data for the company, shut down the broadband Net service in six states last week, according to a company spokesman.

    The regional data center serves more than 150,000 customers, but the company has not yet determined how many of those subscribers had been affected. However, some customers still are without service, the spokesman said.

    The outage struck Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa and affected customers from several of Excite@Home's cable partners, such as Cox Communications, Comcast and AT&T, which is Excite@Home's majority owner.

    The problem occurred Feb. 8, forcing Excite@Home technicians to manually transfer Internet traffic to a backup system. The initial problem was resolved Sunday, but additional problems befell the service when Excite@Home tried to switch the Internet traffic back to the original server. The latest problems have resulted in ongoing service outages for an undetermined portion of the 150,000 Midwest customers.

    "There have been some data transfer errors that have resulted in further service disruptions for those affected customers throughout this week," said an Excite@Home spokesman.

    The outage, though largely contained, is the latest in a string of technical hiccups for Excite@Home, the world's largest broadband Internet provider, with about 3 million subscribers.

    Excite@Home has suffered dozens of outages and e-mail problems since its inception in the mid-1990s. Initially, the service outages were expected and isolated. By and large they were dismissed as the result of the trial and error of delivering high-speed Internet access over cable television cables for the first time.

    Cable networks were originally designed to deliver TV programming, not broadband Net access and local phone service--both of which they're being used for today.

    However, the service snafus have become a source of embarrassment for Excite@Home in recent months as they have resurfaced. In addition, increased competition from DSL (digital subscriber line) providers and consumers' unwillingness to continue to accept the problems as symptoms of a new technology have made improving Excite@Home's network stability more critical than ever.

    AT&T technologist Hossein Eslambolchi joined Excite@Home last week to help beef up the company's network. Excite@Home said it hopes to ensure the stability of its network now, before the service grows even more.

    Broadband Internet access is increasingly popular with consumers, and the company expects to top 5 million customers by the end of the year. Excite@Home executives have forecast in the past that they could serve as many as 10 million customers by the end of 2002.

    Hossein, who representatives say already has begun implementing his plans, will oversee two other significant network-related projects.

    Excite@Home changed its e-mail systems this year, moving to a central system from a regionally dispersed setup. The hardware upgrades are complete, a spokesman said, but Excite@Home has run into some problems when testing the new software.

    At the behest of Internet governance groups, the company also is attempting to move all of its customers to dynamically generated Internet Protocol addresses from static IP addresses. By implementing technology to randomly assign a Web address number for its customers, rather than giving each customer his or her own permanent Web address, Excite@Home can use fewer IP numbers.