Friday, November 30, 2001

PHILADELPHIA Cable companies offering high-speed Internet access via troubled ExciteAtHome scrambled to advise customers about their plans if a judge approves shutting down Excite today, though the backups were of doubtful value to many users.
Philadelphia illustrator Don Haring, for example, said the dial-up connection offered if his ComcastAtHome service is disrupted would be no substitute for the always-on cable modem, billed as delivering data up to 100 times faster than the typical dial-up connection.
“I think the average customer is going to have problems with that,” he said. “I’m sending graphics back and forth all day, basically, and with a dial-up connection it could take an hour to send one of my files. With a high-speed connection it takes a few minutes.”
In addition, the backup connection Comcast’s e-mail directed customers to was the free NetZero Internet service, which requires a Windows-equipped computer and does not work with Macintosh computers.
Comcast and Cox Communications, two top cable distributors of the AtHome high-speed service, said they are building their own high-speed networks to take its place, though those were not expected to be completed until next year.
AT&T, which has an offer pending to buy Excite’s network for $307 million, will not offer a dial-up alternative because it plans to quickly switch affected customers to another network if necessary, spokeswoman Sarah Eder said.
The cable companies were hoping ongoing negotiations could avoid an Excite shutdown.
“We are still in discussions with ExciteAtHome, hopefully working toward a resolution,” said Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Cox spokeswoman Susan Leepson said of the potential shutdown. “There are active negotiations right now with all the parties involved.”
Cox and Comcast had decided in June to stop offering Internet access exclusively through ExciteAtHome. Both companies said in August they would stop using ExciteAtHome altogether next year.
Cox Communications, which has about 550,000 customers using ExciteAtHome, planned to have its own network ready by June and is accelerating that schedule, though a completion date has not been set, Mrs. Leepson said.
Mr. Fitzpatrick declined to comment on when Comcast’s network is expected to be ready.
More than half of AT&T’s 1.4 million cable Internet customers would be affected by an Excite shutdown, but Mrs. Eder said that would be averted if AT&T’s purchase of the Excite system is approved.
If not, affected customers would be switched to another network.
“There is no interim solution because we think we’ll be able to do it quickly,” she said.
Charter Communications, based in St. Louis, with more than 140,000 customers who had received Internet service via Excite, was already switching customers to another network and was working to switch a remaining few thousand who would still be affected by a shutdown, spokesman Andy Morgan said. “We’re almost there.”
Comcast was still advertising the ComcastAtHome Internet service, a major revenue producer, and was continuing to sign up customers, Mr. Fitzpatrick said. The ComcastAtHome Web site flashed “Enjoy a high-speed holiday,” and “Get a free offer on ComcastAtHome high-speed Internet.”
Comcast’s cable division reported adding 117,100 high-speed Internet customers during the third quarter, or about 9,000 customers a week, finishing the quarter with 792,700, more than double the number a year earlier. The service brought in about $81 million in revenue during the quarter.

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