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Prodigy email outage toll mounts

Hundreds of thousands of users of Prodigy Classic experience delays in receiving electronic mail from the Net since Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands of users of the Prodigy Classic online service have experienced delays in receiving electronic mail from the Net since Sunday.

Today, Prodigy spokeswoman Carol Wallace said that Prodigy Classic's incoming Internet mail service was completely down for 48 hours following system maintenance Sunday morning. Email was restored this morning at 9:30 a.m. ET, but she didn't expect that Prodigy could clear the backlog until 9:30 p.m. ET tonight.

The outage, she stressed, did not affect outgoing mail or mail of members who have switched to Prodigy's Internet-based service. Classic users could exchange email with other Classic members during the outage, though they could not receive messages from users outside the service.

That meant that people relying on Prodigy for essential email were out of luck for two days. One woman who runs an Internet-based antiques business said mail from customers has been delayed since Sunday. She said she tried to get information from Prodigy about when it would be back up, but had trouble doing so.

Wallace said Prodigy kept members informed through internal bulletin boards, but employees at Prodigy itself did not know when email service would be restored. "We did not know we would be holding it up for two days."

She didn't have an exact number of complaints but said the service was not swamped with angry users. "We have a very, very active membership. If a majority of members were up in arms about it, believe me, we'd know about it. But," she added, "the people we have heard from, we take very seriously."

Prodigy is not the only online service to experience problems with email. In fact, both Microsoft Network and America Online (AOL) have been plagued with intermittent email outages.

While customers can be understanding about technical difficulties, they tend to get very angry when those difficulties affect their mode of communication. MSN last month had to completely shut down its email for several days while it replaced its servers.

AOL has had several problems related to its email. Although it has not had a major outage for a while, small problems are magnified because the online service has 8 million members who have even more email accounts.

According to Wallace, the outage occurred when the company was upgrading its email servers.

"They realized they didn't have the storage capacity they needed. They held off on delivery of some Internet email so they could arrange storage the way they wanted it," she said. "They are playing catch-up today."

Prodigy Classic is the company's older, proprietary online service. It is still more popular than the company's newer Net-based service, Prodigy Internet, which was introduced last October.

Wallace added that most of Prodigy's 1 million members still subscribe to Prodigy Classic.