The AOL-List: Violations

David Cassel (
Mon, 18 Nov 1996 21:56:08 -0800 (PST)

			  V i o l a t i o n s


Wired News says AOL "blithely predicts" it will prevail in any attorney
general suits--though 30% of state attorneys-general in America have
contacted the company about the automatic pricing switch planned for
December.  "The plan is fair in every sense," AOL maintained to Reuters.
"We are bending over backwards to make sure that all the members are aware
of the new pricing."  They pointed out notices on the service's exit

But this is "purposefully misleading," says one subscriber, "because it
merely states 'Coming in December.  AOL's new pricing plans including
$19.95 for unlimited use.' It DOES NOT indicate that users will be
switched without their consent or notification."  "Members don't find
those details unless they search under member services, several pages
later," USA Today reported.  A California official told Reuters this may
violate negative option laws. "You cannot tell someone they have a new
service without them ordering it." 

"AOL hopes the higher rates will boost it's short-term cash flow, which
was a negative $66.7 million before a stock offering in fiscal 1996," USA
Today added.  "[T]he new pricing would generate about $20.7 million in
added monthly revenue for AOL," the Washington Post estimated Saturday,
using figures supplied by AOL.  The only barrier would be a flood of angry
calls to customer service.  But AOL recently *laid off* 60 customer
service agents--just before the December pricing plan goes into effect. 
As recently as August, customers with billing questions could wait in
AOL's support queue as long as 30 minutes. 

"Great customer service," one AOL ad promised.  Although "Some of you may
recall the days when you often would have to wait on hold for 20 or 30
minutes to talk with us," Steve Case conceded in a letter in June, "which
was very frustrating!"  Unfortunately, the next months still found
customers waiting 30 minutes to talk to a billing representative--which
was "typical", one staffer I talked to commented. 

This may be a pattern.  "AOL seems to be entering one of its periodic,
major service slowdowns," the Wall Street Journal's technology columnist
wrote last week.  "In recent weeks, performance has been sluggish, with
e-mail and even 'instant' messages taking an eternity to send in some
cases."  There's a simple explanation:  as the service expands, resources
are strapped.  "[W]e do experience growing pains from time to time," Steve
Case wrote in one letter, "and in recent weeks we've had more problems
than usual."  That was one year ago.  Case wrote of "busy access
numbers...occasional disconnects...system sluggishness...  Overall, it's
fair to say that we haven't been able to provide the level of consistent
quality we aim for."  In November of 1995, the system had even gone
offline for three hours.  Ironically, Case added "I am hopeful that the
problems will soon dwindle." 

"[T]he bigger we get, the better we get," Case claimed in the letter. 
Instead, customer's sending complaints to Steve Case's mailbox found the
mail being returned as undeliverable--the mailbox was full.  Case closed
his message with "Warm regards."  Nine months later, the system went
offline for 19 hours. 


"In essence, we make books the old-fashioned way," reads the web page for
Cader books, "laboring attention to every detail".  The publishers of
"America Off-line"  then boast of "a staff trained to combine old-worl d
editing values with modern-age means." 

They should labor some attention on the extra space in "world".  And the
five other words their text editor added spaces to. 

           Dave Cassel
           More Information -

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