An IOU from AOL Flat-Rate Subscribers Stymied by Busy Signals Can Get Refund

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Many America Online users who have been getting busy signals in the last couple of months can get a refund or a credit - but they'll have to ask for it.

In a settlement announced Wednesday afternoon, America Online said it would offer up to two full months' refund - $39.90 - to flat-rate subscribers, depending on how many hours they used the service.

The attorneys general of 37 states, including Missouri and Illinois, had been negotiating with the company since Friday over consumer complaints that AOL promised more than it could deliver when, in December, it offered unlimited hours of on-line service for $19.95 a month. "It is a good settlement," Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said. "We got consumers what they need. . . . We're saying, give refunds or rebates to folks, and if you make mistakes henceforth, we'll come down even harder." The company also agreed to stop new promotions of the service in February, except for ads already scheduled. Ads that do run will include a warning about access problems. The company promised to make it easier to cancel the service. Adding to their frustration, dissatisfied customers sometimes could not get through on AOL's telephone lines to stop being billed for service they couldn't access. Now they will be able to cancel by telephone, mail or fax. Steve Case, chairman of AOL, said in a statement, "In combination with the $350 million investment program and other initiatives we announced two weeks ago, these new measures underscore our commitment to do what it takes to fix the problems members are experiencing as a result of the extraordinary demand for AOL." Before the company launched its $19.95-a-month plan in December, its most popular rate was $9.95 for the first five hours and $2.95 for each ad ditional hour. As a result of the pricing change, current AOL users quit watching the clock - some signing on for hours at a time - and new subscribers signed on. Earlier this month, AOL announced that it had 8 million subscribers. Despite adding new equipment, AOL could not keep up with the demand, and users began experiencing more and more busy signals, disconnections and "please try again later" messages. `Take The Money And Run' Alice Sherwood of Clayton, whose family used AOL extensively before the flat rate, said she was "delighted" with the settlement. "Like everybody else, we had trouble connecting," she said. …


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