"An administrative error on our part led to the situation," said Verizon spokesman Larry Plumb, who would characterize the problem only as an Internet address issue.
Speculation on Internet message boards is that Verizon may have neglected to renew its right to the Bellatlantic.net domain name.
Domain names are translated into specific nine-digit Internet addresses that direct e-mail or Web traffic to the proper location. Domain names must be renewed every two years. Most domain name registrars charge between $50 and $70 to register an address for two years, and typically offer discounted renewal fees.
Verizon is not the only major corporation caught by an administrative Internet address gaffe in recent years.
In December 1999, a computer consultant paid the $35 renewal fee on behalf of Microsoft after the software giant's claim to the Passport.com domain name expired. Passport authenticates and verifies the identification of consumers for many of Microsoft's Internet properties including Hotmail, the popular free Web-based e-mail service used by millions. Microsoft later sent the savior a $500 reward check.
Verizon said its e-mail outage occurred Thursday morning and affected about one-third of its 150,000 Bellatlantic.net customers. Bellatlantic.net is the Internet service for Bell Atlantic's dial-up and DSL (digital subscriber line) customers.
Regional local phone giant Bell Atlantic and GTE became Verizon Communications last year as part of a massive merger. Verizon Online has about 1 million Internet customers, though only a portion of the Bellatlantic.net subscribers were affected, Plumb said.
"E-mail will return to full functioning by the end of the evening," Plumb said. "It's been caught, been resolved, been fixed."