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WorldNet issues reliability challenge

AT&T WorldNet posts daily statistics on the reliability of its network and challenges other ISPs to follow suit.

AT&T WorldNet's Tom Evslin clearly touched a nerve today when he said WorldNet would become more accountable to its customers by posting daily statistics on the reliability of its network and then challenging other ISPs to post the same.

AT&T hired Internet measurement company Inverse to measure the ability of users to dial into and log on to its network. Inverse compares AT&T to several other large national ISPs, and AT&T posts how it does in comparison to the average.

"Customers are demanding better reliability," said Evslin, vice president of the WorldNet Service.

He's right, said Mark Mooradian, an analyst with Jupiter Communications, especially in light of all the trouble the nation's largest ISP, America Online, has seen. "This is another way AT&T can capitalize on the shortcomings of AOL."

But will AT&T's statistics prove their claim of superiority? That depends on who you ask.

If you ask some of AT&T's customers, they'll tell you that it's true they have no problem dialing in and logging on to the service. But at least some will also tell you that they have been plagued with email problems, from downed servers to mail being delivered late.

The reliability statistics don't include email or network speed as of yet, but they will eventually, Evslin said.

And if you ask a competitor? "We certainly wouldn't take this study and declare ourselves the best Internet service on the planet," said Mike McQuary, president of Mindspring, one of the sites that AT&T compares itself with. "I think you've got to be careful how you use it."

McQuary said that while the service is an excellent internal tool for ISPs to learn their shortcomings, it doesn't necessarily paint an overall picture.

Rather, McQuary said, people shopping for ISPs should rely on word of mouth and reviews from reputable sources because statistics don't always tell the whole story, he said.

But he was quick to add that if AT&T is issuing a challenge, he's ready.

"If we've been slapped in the face with a glove and challenged to a duel, we're more than happy to take them on in the quality arena."