Flat Rates Offered by America's Most Popular Internet Service Mean More Use by Customers and Greater Delays

After being threatened with law-suits by customers across the country angry at the increasing difficulty of getting on-line, America Online (AOL), the world's largest on-line service, has found that success has its price.

AOL's problems began on Dec. 2, when the company announced a flat fee of $19.95 a month for unlimited use, says Matthew Nerzig, spokesperson for AOL.

"It's at that point that our user demand completely doubled," he says. "We anticipated that there would be a surge in use...but we didn't think it would [be] that much."

Nerzig says AOL had thought there would be an increase in usage by 50 percent with the unlimited access plan and had not prepared for the overwhelming response it did get.

"With the unlimited use fee, people have doubled the use time that they are on," Nerzig says. "When you've got an $8 million customer base and you unleash a popular product, I could guess you say you set yourself up for these things."

"There are all kinds of problems--getting connected and...the busy signal," Nerzig says.

With over half the on-line world on AOL and three times as many users as any other on-line service, AOL is now paying for its success, Nerzig says.

"So when you get a little too popular, popularity does have its price," he says.

Harvard is suffering from AOL's popularity as well, says Franklin M. Steen, director of Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Computer Services.

In an e-mail message, Steen said that, as of last Friday, there were several thousand messages sent from Harvard to AOL which did not get through.

Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 AOL messages are being held by FAS and are not being sent, Steen says.

FAS processes 200,000 to 300,000 messages a day.

The e-mails stuck en route to AOL amount to 75 percent of the FAS messages that are currently queued, or stuck.

"It indicates a problem on AOL's mail servers," Steen says. "Students who are sending to others on AOL are encountering delays in getting mail to AOL's servers. The problem appears to lie on the AOL end."

Students Affected