High-speed service providers suffer from a common problem whenever a new, damaging virus emerges and begins infecting PCs like wild fire: how to alert subscribers to its possible presence, direct them to a proper fix should customers fall prey to it.

Alerting them via e-mail or by posting info on provider's home page are obvious solutions, but even they have their limitations. Many customers do not use the e-mail addresses supplied by their service provider, or they don't visit the provider's home page very regularly. The preponderance of e-mail forging, meanwhile, can cause some customers to call into question the validity of a well-intended message sent from their provider.

As another option, operators could disable modems until the problem is fixed, but that can pry open up a huge can of legal worms operators might as well do without. Yet another is instant messaging, but even that is difficult to maintain because it's a client-based application.

Offering what it believes to be a much more effective remedy to the problem is PerfTech Bulletin Services Ltd., which, as the name suggests, markets a system that sends electronic bulletins directly to data customers at wire-speed.

The company's platform includes a "Bulletin Director," a hardware device that sits at aggregation routers or at the cable modem termination system, and a "Bulletin Manager," a component that manages the scheduling of bulletins and other IP activities that use subscriber account identification information. The smarts embedded in the platform can target messages to something as vague as a ZIP code or as specific as an IP address, said PerfTech President Rod Frey.

Alerting subscribers to dangerous viruses is just one application. The platform could also be used to advertise a new tiered data product or to promote another cable service, though customers can be given the ability to "opt-out" of bulletins of that nature.

PerfTech has been perfecting the technique for some time. In fact, it took more than a year for the product to work without breaking the user browsing session, Frey said. But now the product is ready for prime time, the company said.

Among customers, South Texas Internet Connections (STIC.NET), a regional ISP that Time Warner Cable offers as an alternative in the Lone Star State, used PerfTech's platform to send bulletins to customers about the "MyDoom" virus. Not only did it help customers manage the problem and reduce calls to customer service reps, but 90 percent of STIC.NET's subs got the message within two hours, Frey said. Overbuilder WideOpenWest is also in the process of installing PerfTech's platform across the board.

Although its platform can be used for advertising purposes, PerfTech's business model is primarily in hardware, though the company can provide support services for creating bulletin and bulletin policies.

The company estimates that its platform would cost an operator a nickel per sub per month over a five-year period, though the number would lower as more customers are added to the system. The general economic threshold is about 50,000 data subscribers. However, the platform could be clustered with other cable properties to get those costs down to palatable levels, company officials said.