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Network problems plague Comcast

Comcast’s network outage last week left almost 500,000 cable-modem customers without e-mail access for 24 hours, leading many consumer groups and columnists to cry for cable regulation. But analysts said the service outage is just a modicum of the potential problems Comcast could have had with its new network, considering the breakneck speed at which it had to slap its network together after Excite@Home collapsed.

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“You can’t build a network in 3 months and not break some eggs,” said Yankee Group analyst Mike Goodman. “It’s pretty darn impressive they have as few problems as they do, considering how quickly they had to bring their network online.”

When Excite@Home failed last year, Comcast and other @Home customers scrambled to establish their own networks before the cable ISP cut the switch--as it did on its biggest partner, AT&T Broadband. Since then, former @Home customers have filled Internet message boards and news articles with complaints of shoddy performance.

The problems haven’t been isolated to Comcast, as all former @Home customers have encountered system glitches, according to Goodman. But its pending merger with AT&T Broadband may be exacerbating Comcast’s problems.

Forming the largest MSO in the country and its largest consumer broadband ISP, the new AT&T Comcast would merge two separate but mammoth cable networks into one integrated system--a nightmare in the making for a provider struggling with its own smaller network. But at least the new company won’t be merging networks in the same markets and won’t face the same timetable in merging the networks.

“By the time they come to integrating AT&T Broadband, Comcast will have a lot more experience, and they won’t face the same time pressures,” said Cynthia Brumfield, president of Broadband Intelligence.

The e-mail outage is just the latest problem for Comcast this month. On Feb. 6, Comcast reported a $321 million net loss due to the cost of transitioning its customers onto its own network. Last week, Comcast was caught snooping through its customers’ personal information.

Comcast admitted it tracks cable-modem users web-surfing habits, but promised to desist immediately. As with its e-mail problem, the revelation drew protest from consumer organizations, placing Comcast is the national spotlight right before regulators scrutinize its planned merger. Brumfield said Comcast’s current problems are unlikely to interfere with the proposed merger, but Comcast still should watch its step.

“One of the things Comcast is learning is that it’s in a much bigger spotlight than it was six months ago,” Brumfield said. “It certainly wouldn’t be to its advantage to keep stringing together problems.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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