The ABC News website has an article today stating that America Online (AOL), (I think Ads Online might be a more accurate name), is telling its broadband customers in nine southern states that it will no longer be able to provide broadband service to them. Customers have until January 17, 2005 to find another broadband provider. If they remain with AOL, they will be converted to AOL's dialup service. And AOL spokesperson Anne Bentley is quoted as stating that she expects AOL will phase out broadband service to the rest of its customers over the next year.
I've read other reports that AOL is experiencing financial problems and a declining subscriber base, which doesn't surprise me. I used to suggest AOL to people who had no prior experience with computers or whose computer knowledge was very limited. And when I was helping a family member run a mailing list devoted to anime, I maintained an AOL account so that I could help mailing list members who were AOL members. Many would join the list, but then be unable to receive email, because their AOL account was configured to block email from addresses outside AOL. With the AOL account, I could send them a message advising them how they could change their AOL settings.
AOL did make it fairly easy to get on-line, chat, and send email even for people who were computer illiterate. But over time, I decided AOL wasn't even a good choice for computer novices. Other ISPs improved the packaging of their service and support for novice users, but didn't bombard users with ads whenever they went on-line. And after dealing with AOL's customer service, I came to the conclusion it was awful.
AOL started popping up ads to create a second AOL account when you went on-line. A family member inadvertently created a second account, though she didn't realize she had done so. When I saw the second billing, I called AOL. I was told a second account had been created. I told the representative I spoke to we didn't want it and I wanted that account canceled. I was told the account was canceled. The next month I was again billed for the second account. I called again and was again assured the account was canceled. The following month I was again billed for a second account. I called again and spoke to an AOL representative who said she was checking on the account and then switched me to a telemarketer when she put me on hold. It was bad enough when they put me on hold and forced me to listen to marketing offers while I was on hold, but getting switched to some telemarketing partner of AOL was infuriating. I called back and demanded to speak to a supervisor. I was told the second account would be deleted, but next month I was again billed. On my next call, I was told that "yes" the second account would finally be deleted, but they couldn't credit my credit card for the billings for the previous months. Instead they would give me a credit for extra months on the first account, which I had switched to AOL's $4.95 limited service, which I only kept to assist mailing list members. Billing for the second account finally stopped, but at that point, I didn't feel I could ever recommend AOL to anyone. And with such lousy customer service, it doesn't surprise me AOL is losing customers. I think AOL's chances of still existing in another five years aren't good.