Comcast Corp. said yesterday that it has restored electronic-mail service to customers hit by a 36-hour slowdown and stoppage of e-mail traffic.
The problem affected Comcast's high-speed Internet service, called Comcast @Home, and hampered e-mail transmissions for up to 20,000 households in Howard and Baltimore counties.
The glitches began Sunday, when customers started to see delays in their e-mail service. Eventually, e-mail service stopped altogether.
The problem was caused by the failure of a main server, a $150,000 computer that governs Internet traffic along Comcast's cable network. A backup server took over, but it also failed when the quantity of e-mail transmissions along the network became overwhelming.
Both servers, at Comcast's regional facility in White Marsh, were working again by about 2 a.m. yesterday.
Scott Allison, the general manager of Comcast @Home for the Baltimore area, said the primary server apparently failed because of a faulty connection between the server and a disk drive that stores its data.
Allison said Comcast might install a third main server. "We're looking to see if there's any additional redundancy to put into the network to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.
Comcast officials said e-mails sent during the interruption were stored and would probably be delivered by today.
Comcast @Home is a local example of a growing national trend: cable television companies using their high-capacity wires for Internet access. Cable lines can carry Internet messages much faster than normal telephone networks.
This speed doesn't come cheap. Comcast @Home costs $39.95 per month for customers of Comcast's cable TV service. For others, it's $49.95 per month. In addition to this charge, there is a $149 installation fee.
When asked if customers will get refunds for the e-mail stoppage, Allison said such requests would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
For customers, the brief halt in service was a reminder of how dependent they've become on e-mail, or simply a respite from the never-ending movement of digital messages.
"We had a slowing down, then later I tried to send, and I couldn't do that at all," said Owen Miller, a Comcast @Home customer in Towson. "I couldn't contact the server. It was two minutes and still looking, so I just shut it off."