Time Warner Cable Web Disruption Sparks Inquiry by Cuomo

Time Warner Cable Inc.’s nationwide Internet service disruption this morning is increasing the scrutiny of its planned merger with Comcast Corp.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said he has directed the New York State Department of Public Service to investigate the outage as part of its review of Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable said it has restored Internet service for customers across the U.S.

“Today’s widespread Internet outage that has apparently impacted more than 11 million customers at Time Warner -- which is based in New York -- is a stark reminder that our economy is increasingly dependent on a reliable broadband network,” Cuomo said in an e-mailed statement.

Subscribers woke up to no Internet access, and #timewarnercable quickly began trending on Twitter as customers vented their frustrations. Since the $45.2 billion deal was announced in February, the companies have faced complaints about poor customer service as they try to win support from both regulators and the general public.

“The timing is really unfortunate with the scrutiny both companies are getting right now,” said Roger Entner, an analyst with Recon Analytics LLC in Dedham, Massachusetts. “This outage has nothing to do with the merger, but it will be used by detractors to say: ‘See, they need to fix their service problems now before they are allowed to combine and have even bigger problems.’”

Unknown Issue

Time Warner Cable had about 11.4 million residential high-speed data subscribers as of June 30 and about 550,000 business customers for its Internet services. The deal with Comcast will combine the two largest U.S. cable providers.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable are the two lowest-ranked companies for customer satisfaction in the cable business, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

An issue with Time Warner Cable’s Internet backbone disrupted broadband and on demand services at 4:30 a.m. New York time during “routine network maintenance,” the company said in an e-mailed statement. As of 6 a.m., “services were largely restored,” it said.

The company tweeted via its @TWC_Help account for customer care that “services should be restored for all customers; our apologies for the interruption. If you’re still having issues, please let us know.”

‘Very Serious’

In an e-mail later today, the company cited an erroneous configuration that spread through its national backbone during overnight network maintenance to manage IP addresses.

Bobby Amirshahi, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable, said the company “immediately identified and corrected the root cause of the issue” and restored service by 7:30 a.m.

“A failure of this size is very serious and we are taking the necessary steps to improve our processes with the objective of making sure this doesn’t happen again,” Amirshahi said.

Downdetector.com, which tracks service interruptions, shows there were more than 10,000 Time Warner Cable problem reports within a few hours this morning in cities including Los Angeles; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Buffalo, New York. About 94 percent of the reported problems were related to Internet service, according to downdetector.com.

Some of the Internet outages occurred in New York City, according to the company’s customer service line.

Time Warner Cable recently agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission into the company’s failure to report a “substantial number” of network outages with proper documentation. Time Warner Cable admitted its failure to file the proper documentation, according to an Aug. 25 FCC order announcing the settlement and now-ceased investigation.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.