A collective gasp echoed throughout the ranks of data addicts when multiple networks experienced widespread outages across the United States on Monday morning. Following reports of service interruptions from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco to Dallas, Time Warner Cable confessed on Twitter, "We appear to be recovering from a large but brief internet outage affecting most of our service areas." A couple hours later, the company's director of digital communications told The Atlantic Wire, "We are up and running, and still investigating the cause and scope of the outage."

However, the problem appears to be more widespread than just the Time Warner Cable network. Users reported similar outages on RCN's and BlackBerry's networks, as well as sluggish page load times on websites and trouble with Twitter. All of the problems coincide with an outage at Level3, a tier one network that makes up part of the backbone of the internet, that could explain the breadth of the problems. To stick with the anatomy analogy, internet service providers (ISPs) like Time Warner Cable and RCN represent appendages that depend on tier one networks like Level3 to operate normally. A well-placed blow could not only cripple a single network but actually kill the entire internet — or at least paralyze it from the neck down — if only for a few moments.

Don't be scared. Outages happen all the time, and they're usually short-lived as the affected hardware resets itself and goes back online. In the case with Level3's outage on Monday morning, a bug in a software update appears to have hit the network's Juniper routers, and the resulting outage caused by the routers resetting themselves outage that reverberated throughout the networks that depend on Level3's backbone for service. Level3 explained the issue in a statement:

Shortly after 9 am ET today, Level 3's network experienced several outages across North America and Europe relating to some of the routers on our network. Our technicians worked quickly to bring systems back online. At this time, all connection issues have been resolved, and we are working hard with our equipment vendors to determine the exact cause of the outage and ensure all systems are stable.

We're guessing that Time Warner Cable will come to a similar conclusion by tracing their outage back to the affected routers at Level3 and will update you when we get more information. In the meantime, don't get too worked up over slow-loading webpages. Like they do with people, bugs only make the internet sick for a little while, but it will eventually spring back to full-functioning, fast-downloading life in no time. It could be worse, like the time Time Warner Cable's network caught on fire, for instance.