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WorldNet problems ongoing

Customers of AT&T's Internet service say last week's brownout is just one in a series of recurring reliability problems.

    AT&T WorldNet says increased email usage by its more than 1 million subscribers caused its system to choke up for most of last week. But some customers say the "brownout" was not an isolated incident and are demanding more reliable service.

    As reported last week, WorldNet customers all over the country could send email but not receive messages for about four hours last Tuesday. Although email was initially reinstated for most, the outage caused other problems with WorldNet's service that persisted through Sunday, the company confirmed today.

    WorldNet's email system was apparently down many times after the glitch on Tuesday. Many customers still couldn't receive messages this weekend.

    "What didn't become clear until later is that because of a backlog of messages that built up due the original problem, our service had other problems that lingered through the weekend," Mike Miller, a spokesman for WorldNet, said today. "The root problem was a large increase in email usage and the size of the messages being sent. We think it is associated with the holidays."

    WorldNet worked this week to beef up the capacity of its email system by adding more email servers and removing email messages on its servers that were more than 90 days old, Miller added.

    But some subscribers say the brownout is a part of a long pattern of unreliability. For example, due to a hardware glitch last November, about 50,000 customers were unable to receive email for half a day. In July, the service suffered the opposite problem--a spammer clogged WorldNet customers' outbound email for a few days before being shut down.

    "I've stuck with WorldNet for two years because their Usenet feed is unequaled by other services out there. But the email problem has been ongoing--they just can't get it straight," said James Elbrecht, a WorldNet subscriber who lives in New York and gets about 120 email messages per day. "Everybody has technical problems, but WorldNet's lack of communication about what is going on is their biggest problem by far."