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Email meltdowns haunt holidays

Business customers at GTE and GeoCities community members spend part of the week of Christmas without email services.

Small and medium-sized businesses that use GTE for Internet services have been experiencing problems with email since Monday night, when spam took down the system for a day, according to GTE.

The email server responsible for the 600 small and medium-sized business "internetworking" customers crashed Monday afternoon after "customers sustained some severe spamming attacks," said GTE spokesman Bill Kula. GTE restored the server late Tuesday night and processed all the mail, he said.

But because of the heavy volume of mail backed up on the servers, not all of it was delivered by Tuesday night. Kula said all mail should be delivered by the end of the day today.

That won't be soon enough for some customers, who have been without email for the entire business week.

Donna Halper, a radio programming consultant, said she relies on email for vital end-of-the-year communications.

"We're furious," she said. "This is a nightmare. It's shut us down for a week. My computer is my lifeline. I'd say they don't know how to handle spam. The worst part is we couldn't get a straight answer for four days."

Kula declined to elaborate on what kind of spam was sent or why it crashed the server. Spam, a huge headache for networks, has been known to crash servers of smaller providers, but total outages at larger services are rarely attributed to spam, at least publicly.

Kula emphasized that the vast majority of its customer base--the 258,000 residential customers--was unaffected by the outage. Fortune 2,000 customers also went unharmed.

GTE will be offering some kind of refund to the affected business customers, who pay an average of about $125 per month for service, Kula said.

GTE was not the only service to experience email difficulties over the holidays. Members of the online community GeoCities also complained about problems with its free email service. A GeoCities spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Ironically, GTE had been planning on upgrading its server this weekend, Kula said.

"We had planned several months ago to use this coming weekend to transfer email service for our business customers to the InterMail platform used by residential customers," Kula said. "We'll be moving all email service from the server we had used to our much more scaleable platform that will help to ensure this situation does not happen again."