Comcast Provides Few Details About Cause Behind Its Feb. 15 Outage

The Comcast service problems included about 17,000 reports of outages across the nation involving television, Internet and phone services.

Comcast, service outages, Internet, WiFi, Comcast Xfinity, Downdetector, network problems

Comcast is not saying much about the service outages that affected thousands of the company's customers across the United States on Feb. 15, leaving users wondering just what happened to cause the problems.

The service outages affected Comcast television, Internet and voice phone services across "a number of markets" in the United States, according to a Feb. 15 story by CNNMoney.

"Complaints peaked between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. ET on Monday, reaching as many as 17,000 outage reports," the story reported, based on data from service outage reporting Website Downdetector.

CNNMoney reported that a Comcast spokesperson said the outage occurred in "a number of markets, but not all customers/not all services were impacted."

Most of the complaints were related to HD television services, the report stated, but some customers also complained of service disruptions with their Comcast Xfinity Internet and voice phone services.

Comcast posted a note about the outage on its corporate Website on Feb. 15, reporting at 12:30 p.m. ET that it was "continuing to investigate what appears to be a temporary network interruption that impacted some of our services this morning. Our engineers have been working on this and services are starting to be restored. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused our customers."

In an update at 1:22 p.m. ET on Feb. 15, the company said that its technicians "have repaired the temporary network interruption that impacted some of our services this morning. Our engineers continue to work on this issue and almost all services have already been restored."

Jenni Moyer, the senior director of corporate communications for Comcast's network and operations, gave no further details when asked for more information on the outage by eWEEK in a Feb. 16 email inquiry. She did not respond to specific questions about how many customers were affected, what caused the outage and how many states were affected.

Several IT industry analysts told eWEEK that Comcast's limited remarks about the service problems that affected many of its customers were surprising since it was not a small disruption.

"If this were a minor problem or one that affected a single place or region, Comcast could probably get away with simple glad-handing," Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-IT, told eWEEK in an email reply to an inquiry. "But the size/scope of yesterday's outage suggests that the issue was far larger and more widespread than a simple, 'Oops, sorry,' really covers."

Service outages "are a fact of life in a service-driven economy, especially in services dominated by a handful of large, dominant players," wrote King, but "the dynamic power of social media means that consumers have the means to share their thoughts, approval and disappointments instantaneously. If Comcast were smart, they'd skip the platitudes, explain the problem and how they're fixing it, express remorse and move on. Unfortunately, in this particular instance, smartness doesn't seem to be in the company's toolbox."

Analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research agreed. "It seems like it was a pretty widespread outage, and it's odd that Comcast didn't provide any sort of explanation for it—even a one-sentence explanation would have been better than nothing," he wrote in an email reply. "You have to imagine it was some sort of software glitch in some centralized system somewhere to have caused issues over such a wide geographic area. Simply acknowledging that fact and assuring customers that it wouldn't happen again would have been the right thing to do."

Another analyst, Rob Enderle, principal of Enderle Group, told eWEEK that since Comcast provides cable TV, Internet and voice phone services to customers, it needs to be more responsive when problems occur that disrupt customers' lives in a wide range of ways. Providing all three types of services "means the tolerance for this kind of outage has gone down dramatically over the years," he wrote.

Comcast needs to be careful in such instances, said Enderle, because "things are changing, people are starting to cut the cord to their cable TV [service], live more off their cell phones, and Google is beginning to aggressively supply low cost network alternatives to cable data services."

If Comcast doesn't keep its customers informed and happy, it could face repercussions, he wrote. "This is often how entire industries fail, the companies in them don't realize that customer satisfaction is important until after they have lost the critical mass of customers that keeps them viable."