Services & Software

AOL's not out of the woods

To say AOL had a bad week is like saying Bill Gates lives in a humble abode. Yet the service's current problems are not going to go away.

To say AOL had a bad week is like saying Bill Gates lives in a humble abode.

The way things went this week, America Online (AOL) executives just might be longing for the good old days when all they had to worry about were outages. At least when an outage was over, it was over.

But AOL's current swamped system problems are sure to stick with the online company for a long time to come.

The online giant started the week under a cloud of threats of lawsuits by attorneys general from across the nation. The states wanted AOL to give refunds to irate users who encountered busy signals when they tried to log on, followed by interminable waits when they called to complain.

On Wednesday, AOL gave in. (See related story)

The deal is sure to cost AOL millions of dollars in lost revenue from customers demanding refunds, not to mention negative publicity the likes of which the service has never seen before.

AOL made an effort to put a positive spin on the agreement, making noises about good customer service and pointing out one more time that it is spending $350 million to beef up its network. As the week came to a close, AOL even put out a press release about a survey that implied that AOL members watch less television than the average person. (See related story)

If it was an attempt to divert attention from AOL's main problems, it failed miserably. It's quite clear from the continual beating AOL is getting from members and the mainstream press that AOL is not about to get a break.

Members may have mixed feelings regarding the agreement with the attorneys general, but they are still are getting busy signals. And now they have a new reason to be upset.

Getting through to get those refunds and credit has been frustrating and full of confusion. An AOL spokeswoman said that members can only get refunds by calling AOL's 800 number, although the agreement states customers can also write to a post office box in Utah. Members who try to call often wait for an hour or longer to speak with someone--if they can get through to begin with.

And the attorneys general? They aren't about to let the company off the hook. (See related story)

You can be sure that they'll be watching AOL's every move. And when it takes a false step, the public will be sure to hear about it.