Troubled America Online has come out worst in a new survey of Internet service providers, with junk email the main culprit.
The survey, undertaken by US magazine 'PC World', polled over 6,000 users and tested the services against criteria such as ease of connection, especially during peak hours, reliability for email and quality of back-up service. IBM emerged as top rated ISP against these benchmarks.
AOL fared badly when it came to technical back-up, connection speed and 'spam' or junk email. "If you're still thinking of starting up with AOL, be warned: Junk mail is a fact of life on the service, which kicks off with a morass of advertisements for products and services," warns the report.
On the bright side, AOL - the world's largest online service with over nine million users - did score well for ease of use and content, with features such as news and financial information on offer in addition to basic Internet capabilities.
A spokesperson for the company pointed out that it was addressing connection problems, and that its recent deal with Worldcom will enable it to triple its network capacity. He added: "The company is hiring additional workers in the call centre and as for the ads, they'll stay because the revenue helps keep prices down for users."
IT analyst Chris Lewis from the Yankee Group believes European users may have better experience of AOL than their US counterparts, claiming the company "sets the standards for online consumer information in Europe".
He also highlighted the intense competition in the consumer online services sector. He said this explains AOL's high 'churn' rate for subscriptions.
AOL currently has the resources for significant development of its service and infrastructure, following the confirmation of a $200 million line of credit, as well as the cash from the sale of its business division, ANS, to Worldcom. "It is well known that AOL is sitting on a pile of cash ... with $750 million to spend on acquisitions," said one analyst.
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