Switch from Adelphia to Comcast brings outages for Internet customers

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On Mondays, Karen Welsh typically pays all of her household bills online -- water, electricity, gas and $208 to Adelphia for her cable TV and high-speed Internet access.

But nothing was paid yesterday, Mrs. Welsh said, because her Internet connection had been on the fritz since Sunday morning.

Out of frustration, she switched to Verizon.

"[On Sunday] I was willing to wait it out, but today I can't pay my bills," she said yesterday.

Since Comcast Corp. began switching roughly 200,000 former Adelphia high-speed Internet and cable TV customers over to its broadband network early Sunday morning, several people in Mrs. Welsh's Mt. Lebanon neighborhood, as well as parts of Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park, have reported the same problem -- their cable TV works just fine but their Internet service is nowhere to be found.

"This is an isolated incident," said Comcast spokeswoman Jody W. Doherty, who acknowledged that some of the local customers that Comcast picked up in its deal to split the assets of bankrupt Adelphia Communications were without Internet service. She declined to say how many were affected or when their service would be restored.

"The vast majority of subscribers successfully transitioned, and are enjoying Comcast services. A very small percentage of customers are experiencing an interruption in service," Ms. Doherty said.

Cable giants Comcast and Time-Warner agreed to split the assets of the bankrupt Adelphia in a sale finalized on July 31. Consequently, Comcast picked up roughly 200,000 in the Pittsburgh region, boosting its customer count to about 850,000 in 19 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, parts of eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and Frostburg, Md.

There's no word on how many of them are without Internet access, and Comcast won't say.

The technical problems aren't surprising, according to cable analyst Alan Breznick.

"Comcast has had trouble with technical glitches -- even when they weren't making any transitions," he said.

Cable companies have their own technical systems, Mr. Breznick said. Since Adelphia's is likely older and not as advanced as Comcast's, there were bound to be problems as they worked to transition customers and upgrade the system.

It's been an inconvenience for Mrs. Welsh, who's been on the phone organizing her children's activities and appointments in between calls to Comcast's customer service line.

"We live and die by our e-mail accounts," Mrs. Welsh said. "Nobody calls anymore, they just send e-mails."

Mrs. Welsh said she resisted turning to Verizon for Internet access because of the hassle of changing providers, but after trying unsuccessfully to reach Comcast's customer service representatives, she gave up and made the switch.

Comcast could have warded off the defection of Mrs. Welsh and other customers if it had warned customers that there might be technical difficulties during the transition period, Mr. Breznick said.

It's the "not knowing," that is difficult, agreed Mt. Lebanon resident and Parent Teacher Association President Mary Birks, who had to rely upon her deputy to send out e-mails she'd planned to tackle yesterday, but couldn't because her service was down.

She said she's trying to be patient despite not getting the 50 to 100 e-mails she typically receives daily, she said. But the bright side is "it's sort of a relief in a way too because you don't have to constantly be tied to your computer," Mrs. Birks said.

There was no warning of possible problems in the two letters she received from Comcast about the planned cable and Internet switch over, she added.

Comcast has said once the transition is complete, Adelphia's customers will have Comcast's on-demand cable video service beginning in November and be able to sign up for Comcast's digital phone service sometime in 2007.

But the promise of future services with bells and whistles may not be enough to keep Mt. Lebanon resident Georgia Connell from switching to Verizon.

She said she waited about three hours to get through on Comcast's customer service line on Sunday before she was told it would be up to 72 hours before the Web would be available.

Mrs. Connell said the Comcast representative told her that they were fielding calls from screaming, angry customers who shared her plight but that there was nothing they could do but wait.

"I said, 'If somebody's holding for one hour and then you tell them that you can't do anything, what do you expect?' " she said.

Comcast could see more former Adelphia customers follow the route of Mrs. Welsh and Mrs. Connell to another Internet service provider if the problems linger, industry analysts said.

"I wouldn't consider 24 to 48 hours outage a big deal," said Jason Marcheck, a telecommunications analyst at Sterling, Va.-based research firm Current Analysis, adding that Comcast's Internet meltdown is "a great thing from Verizon's perspective."

"If the customers have any reason to be mad at their cable company, Verizon could capitalize on that," Mr. Marcheck added.

Comcast's Ms. Doherty said the company's working as fast as it can to restore Internet service. "It's our priority and we'll do our best to quickly get them back on line," she said.

Corilyn Shropshire can be reached at cshropshire@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1413.


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