AOL ain't worth it. Not for $21.95, anyway, according to the results of a NEWS.COM Poll.
The company made industry waves Monday when it announced that it is bumping its monthly access charge by $2 and cutting back staff at its CompuServe subsidiary. The news comes as the online giant restructures its operations and puts Robert Pittman in an elevated executive position. (See related coverage)
But from the comments that accompanied the tally, AOL users past and present had a more damning message for the online giant: The service isn't even worth its current rate of $19.95 per month.
Poll respondents heaped abuse on AOL in ferociously worded messages that verged on the unprintable.
"America Online isn't even worth 2 bucks per month," fumed Javier Torres. "With all the advertising it uses it should be giving the service for free. How can it be raising the price?...I'm sorry if I used any profane language in this letter. I'm just really mad at AOL."
One respondent, who said she was an AOL support engineer and asked that her name not be used, blasted both the rate hike and the quality of service AOL provides.
"I find that the members have more problems with getting and staying online and having to reinstall the software many times," she wrote.
Reader Todd Walker said: "Even though the media has lost its interest in reporting on the low quality of AOL's service...it is still common, even routine, for me to dial AOL up to ten times before getting through."
"Now it wants to raise its rates $2 even when it is already making more money than analysts expected. Despite that fact, it continues to seek out ways of cutting its partners out of well-deserved cash and sticking it to customers with sub-par service. Grrrr," he added.
A frequently cited bugaboo with AOL members was the increased use of advertising on the online service. "With all the advertising you are bombarded with at sign-on, it's amazing you can enjoy yourself at all," wrote one user. "I have had five pop-up ads at sign-on. Enough is enough. Now, you even get pop-up ads when you enter a new channel."
Numerous poll respondents said they might follow voting in the poll by voting with their feet. "With AOL raising its prices, I won't be saving nearly as much," wrote one anonymous user. "Should I go back to an ISP and get better service?"
AOL member Daniel Harlow said: "I am considering leaving because it is ridiculous to raise the price of the service when it can still only barely meet user demand and when [the service is] making a profit."
Many users said they had already abandoned the online service. "I cancelled my account with AOL as soon as I read about the price increase," wrote David Doler. "They have always been an irritating pain...and I sure am not in the mood to reward them for increasingly lousy service."
But one user predicted that after all is said and done, inertia will bind AOL users to the service. "The American public is generally lazy," wrote a respondent who asked not to be named.
A small number of poll respondents wrote in to defend AOL and its $2 price increase. "Who really cares about AOL raising their rates?" wrote David Weir. "I don't. Most ISPs are going to be raising their rates soon, and their increase is going to be more than AOL's...If users can't afford an extra $24 [per year] they shouldn't be online, and they shouldn't be bellyaching about it. [Users] should be happy that AOL didn't bump up the price to $24.99."
One user optimistically predicted that the rate hike would result in a reduction in bellyaching. "I think it is a great idea," wrote the anonymous respondent. "It will get rid of all those people who just complain about AOL's service. We (my family) spend on average about 50+ hours a month online. With all those complainers it can be slow at times, but when AOL raises its prices maybe those people will leave and speed it up for those of us who enjoy AOL."