AOL Skews Offline, Putting Refugees in Camp of Its Rivals

By Rafter, Michelle V. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

AOL Skews Offline, Putting Refugees in Camp of Its Rivals


Rafter, Michelle V., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


America Online is once again "America On Hold" and nobody's happy about it.

Since the nation's largest online network slashed prices to a $19.95 monthly flat rate in December, more than 500,000 new subscribers have signed on. New and existing users are taking advantage of the all-you-can-eat pricing to spend twice as long per call, pushing the average length of an online session to about 30 minutes.

As a result, subscribers are encountering hours - if not days - of busy signals, and several have filed class-action lawsuits because of it. AOL executives are directing frantic efforts to add modems to expand the network, taking breaks to field a mountain of calls from reporters. Even rival Internet service providers - who first viewed AOL's problems as a windfall - are adding refugees from the online service so fast they're facing network problems of their own. Some scenes from the fray: It's Sunday morning in San Francisco and AOL subscriber Jeff Spirer has been logged onto the service since Friday night. "I am a very heavy e-mail user and it is easier to just leave it on and let it pick up the e-mail on an ongoing basis rather than log in," Spirer said. "I have an automatic retrieval every 10 minutes that keeps the service from logging me off." Spirer says he's the perfect example of what is wrong on AOL - veteran customers taking advantage of the switch to flat rates to stay on as long as they want. Demand from new users is a secondary factor, Spirer believes. On the Internet, Usenet newsgroups that focus on America Online are packed with angry customers. "What is the point of paying and not being able to connect?" one irate subscriber wrote recently. "I am NOT recommending AOL to anyone and I shall be disconnecting my AOL account soon. I have been with AOL for four years but their service is going downhill." iSki wouldn't be in business if not for AOL. The interactive skiing magazine's content area on AOL (Keyword: ISKI) and Web site were partly funded through AOL's Greenhouse project for online startups. Despite the special tie, AOL traffic jams have affected the publisher just like everyone else. Busy signals blocked all but a few subscribers from participating in a recent live chat with extreme skier Glen Plake, and even the guest of honor had a tough time staying connected for the event, said Tim Murray, an editorial director at iSki's parent company, InterZine Ventures. …

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