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  Web woes see Shaw reduce Excite ties

John Partridge
Saturday, October 21, 2023

TORONTO -- Shaw Communications Inc. is so disenchanted with the performance of Excite@Home Inc., the U.S. company that has been providing its high-speed Internet and e-mail service, that it has been quietly paring down their relationship for the past year.

Peter Bissonnette, the president of Calgary-based Shaw's cable television division that sells the service under the Shaw@Home brand, said it has almost finished switching transmission entirely to its own fibre-optic distribution network and data centres. As well, Shaw plans to use Excite@Home solely as a provider of Internet content when the two companies' contract comes up for renewal in May, 2002.

However, the Calgary company also plans to make its network available to both other content providers and high-speed Internet services. "The highlight would be a strong Shaw high-speed Internet brand," Mr. Bissonnette said.

Shaw's decision to reduce its ties with Excite@Home has created some "antipathy," he added, although the companies' relationship is now "very positive because we both understand what our roles are going to be in the future."

A spokeswoman for Excite@Home would not comment.

Based in Redwood City, Calif., Excite@Home provides services to about 20 U.S. and Canadian cable TV companies. With about 300,000 high-speed customers apiece, Shaw and the cable division of Rogers Communications Inc. of Toronto are among its biggest affiliates.

The system has been beset with problems in the past several weeks, with subscribers complaining of being unable to log on to the Web or send or receive e-mail for hours and in some cases for days at a time.

Shaw customers have contacted The Globe and Mail to report problems with the service. However, the troubles appear to have been particularly acute at Rogers. Rogers@Home serves customers in much of Ontario and British Columbia, and remains far more dependent on Excite@Home for distribution than Shaw, observers say.

While emphasizing that these problems have been intermittent rather than system-wide, Rogers Cablesystems Ltd. president John Tory said yesterday that repairing the system is the company's No. 1 priority.

"All of it is unacceptable to me," he told reporters at a Toronto news conference where Rogers disclosed that it has been chosen to provide a broad package of cable and Internet services for a new waterfront condominium project. "We're going to get it fixed as soon as we can."

However, as did the spokeswoman for Excite@Home, he refused to predict how long this might take, saying "the last thing we want to do is mislead customers."

Mr. Tory did report some progress. Excite@Home sent a bulletin to affiliates Thursday evening saying it thinks it has identified a problem with a piece of network hardware that has been cited as one of the main causes of the intermittent e-mail disruptions, and is doing lab tests to see if its suspicions are correct.

Mr. Tory also said Rogers is not currently considering any system-wide rebates as a good-will gesture to unhappy customers. Like the company, he said, customers' top priority is to have the system working properly.

Chris Weisdorf of Toronto did not disagree. Mr. Weisdorf is president of the Rogers@Home Users Association, a 700-member group that is trying to keep pressure on the company to improve its service. A rebate of, say, $10 for each customer, he said, would be an "insult." As well, it would add up to $3-million in all and "wouldn't improve the service."

Rogers did not communicate en masse with its @Home customers about the troubles until sending them an e-mail Tuesday morning. Mr. Tory admitted that it should have done so sooner. "I apologize to customers for the fact that we didn't," he said.

However, Rogers chairman Ted Rogers was altogether less apologetic in his remarks at the news conference, saying that "pioneers" always run into problems now and then -- and that when Rogers does, it always fixes them. "We have no apologies for pioneering and introducing these new services far ahead of what our American colleagues are doing," he declared.

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