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AOL pricing deal made public

Over the online service's objections, Florida authorities release a report on the company's legal settlement on pricing.

Over America Online's (AOL) objections, the Florida attorney general's office today released a report the company had filed in compliance with a December legal settlement over pricing.

The three-page report contains no surprises but does reveal some previously unreleased numbers about AOL's unlimited pricing.

When the online service started offering unlimited access for $19.95 in December, it automatically switched everyone to the flat-fee plan unless they specifically opted out of it. Several states told AOL that it was violating the law by not getting members' consent before switching them to the new plan.

In December, AOL and 19 attorneys general reached an agreement calling for the company to remit members whose bills had been automatically raised to $19.95 a month. The settlement also called for AOL to retroactively contact as many members as possible to ask them if they wanted to switch to the $19.95 unlimited plan.

This agreement is distinct from the highly publicized arrangement a month later with 44 state attorneys general over AOL members' inability to access the system due to busy signals. But both agreements address problems AOL has had since it bowed to industry pressure and began offering unlimited pricing.

According to the report released today, as of January 26, 11.64 million people had seen online screens asking them to choose their pricing plan. Of those, 6.9 million had selected the $19.95 plan. The numbers don't reflect actual members who had chosen the plan, but people who have screen names. Each AOL member can have up to five screen names.

AOL spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg added that "over 80 percent" of AOL's members are currently on the flat-fee plan, but would not break down the numbers any further. She also would not comment on the number of people or amount of money AOL has given in refunds.

Goldberg added that the release of the report today constitutes a "leak" because it contains what AOL labeled "proprietary business information."

But Jack Norris, an assistant attorney general in Florida, released the report citing public records laws, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

AOL attorney Rebecca Eisner had submitted a letter to the Florida office objecting to the release of the report after a Times reporter requested the report from Norris's office, the newspaper said.

"America Online believes that the report is subject to several exemptions under the Florida Public Records statutes," she wrote in the Times. "...[We] will take the actions necessary, including legal proceedings, to protect the report. We do not authorize any disclosure of the report or its contents to any party at this time."

Norris released the report anyway. "In our view, this report is public record," he was quoted as saying in the Times.