AOL List: Disinformation

David Cassel (
Wed, 20 Nov 1996 12:00:02 -0800 (PST)

			D i s  I n f o r m a t i o n


CompuServe announced yesterday that SpryNet was named "Best Internet
Service Provider" by PC Magazine.  Earlier last week, AOL announced the
same magazine ranked THEM highest "among online Internet services"--but PC
Magazine had actually just said "Online Services".  ("If you want to step
into the Internet pool -- but also retain the comfort...of an online
service -- AOL is a good choice.") The winning internet service provider
was, in fact, SpryNet.  And customers agree.  "About 1/2 hour ago, I
dumped AOL,"  subscriber Dan Eppinger told me.  "For the past two days,
the internet has been ridiculously slow on AOL, while zipping along nicely
with SpryNet." 

This isn't the first time AOL comparisons have been misstated.  "There are
lots of companies out there run by 18-year-olds out of the family rec
room," the former producer of AOL's Internet Connection said in a panel
discussion in December's Internet World--"at least until mom and dad find
out...  The large reliable companies that have beefed up customer service
are knocking out those who have one access number, frequent busy signals,
and no help to speak of.  ("I'm sorry, Jimmy's grounded right now.  He'll
help you with your DNS error on Sunday after he takes out the trash.")

"As far as AOL and CompuServe go, AOL is bleeding customers all over the
place," editor Andrew Kantor countered.  "The Washington Post says that
'during the last quarter 2.1 million people signed up for...trial
subscriptions and 1.5 million people left the service.' ...The Internet is
steamrolling the online services, and those garage ISPs will fare better
than AOL, oddly, even if they have to take out the trash once in a while." 

"The idea that the online services are so much easier to use is a myth I'm
getting tired of hearing," Kantor continued later.  "It's one of those
true-two-years-ago things that the online services try to perpetuate..." 
In fact, three of the four panelists concurred. 

     "Proprietary online services are dead." 
	    -- Jeremy Carl, Associate Editor of WebWeek.

     "[T]he small ISPs that perform specialized functions will remain while 
      the telcos (and cable companies...) replace online services as the 
      quickest path between you and the Internet." 
	     -- Jim Sabo, Ticketmaster's chief programmer.

     "General interest online services like America Online are doomed." 
	     -- Andrew Kantor, Editor of Internet World.

The fact that the fourth voice was a former AOL employee wasn't mentioned
in the article. "I deliberately kept her in the rotation for the online
services piece because I thought she might keep the discussion from being
too one-sided against the services,"  editor Andrew Kantor told me. 
"[H]ad she come out ultra-pro AOL I would have mentioned her affiliation
in the bio box."  But elsewhere, the myths keep getting circulated.  "Most
Internet Service Providers don't have any support staff," the author of
"AOL for Dummies"  told an audience of AOLers.  "And the ones they *do*
have are only partially human." 

"It is all well and good to have an 800 number for technical support," 
one AOL user mailed in response, "but what if no one answers?"  It wasn't
a rhetorical question; "I have spent up to an hour and a half on hold for
an AOL tech-support person."  In fact, AOL's customer service is
notoriously bad.  In an earlier issue, Internet World reported that one
subscriber who called complaining about e-mail problems was told "Maybe
you should telephone the internet and talk to their technical support
people."  Last year in AOL's Tech Live area a subscriber asking how to
send mail to eWorld was told, "They don't have internet access, you
can't."  (Yet PC Weeks's gossip columnist claims AOL "may face a
class-action lawsuit. Seems that some of the people who got axed are none
too happy about their depiction as nonperformers.")

That won't be AOL's only legal problem.  C|Net reported yesterday that the
number of state attorney generals objecting to AOL's unannounced doubling
of their basic rate has risen to 17--and one U.S. territory.  "We would
like to obtain America Online's assurances that it will not implement the
new plan for current members who do not affirmatively order it until our
concerns have been resolved," read the jointly-signed letter.  Jack
Norris, chief of special prosecutions for the Florida attorney general,
told C|Net that "If the concerns have not been resolved before the pricing
plan goes into affect, AOL could face lawsuits." 

"I have a theory," one AOL remote staffer told me.  "AOL has slashed the
customer service department in order to expand their LEGAL department!!" 


Last January AOL evacuated their customer service building in Florida
because of concerns about "a funny smell".  Sensitive OSHA equipment was
brought in, the Florida Times-Union reported, which eventually traced the
problem staffer's perfume. 

      David Cassel
      DisInformation Information -  

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