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HEARD ON THE BEAT

Net Surfers Find Rivals' Waves Crowded Too

March 03, 1997|KARAN KAPLAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Shortly after America Online users began complaining that constant busy signals shut them out of the overburdened computer network, AT&T WorldNet boasted that throngs of disgruntled AOL customers were defecting to its Internet access service.

Now it appears that Internet service providers like WorldNet have inherited not only AOL customers but also AOL-style network troubles.

In recent weeks, WorldNet customers--who pay $19.95 a month for unlimited access to the Internet and the World Wide Web, just like AOL users--have experienced connection problems of their own. One user in New Jersey said he must dial more than 20 times to get onto the network, and others complained of trouble in New York, Tennessee, Arizona and other states.

"E-mail is slow, erratic; mail disappears or numerous duplicate copies come in," said Karen Colquitt of Irving, Texas, who has been a WorldNet subscriber for six months.

WorldNet subscribers have begun commiserating on a newsgroup, but a company spokesman said he was not aware of any "major ongoing problems."

In Los Angeles, customers of the fast-growing EarthLink Network have also been squeezed by America Online defectors. The ISP has even prepared a booklet called "A Guide for the AOL Graduate."

Chairman Sky Dayton said "a significant proportion" of EarthLink's new customers are former AOL users. EarthLink recently doubled the network's capacity, Dayton said.

But some customers, who also pay $19.95 a month, say the network is strained. Bill Dorr, a retired theatrical and concert producer who has been a satisfied EarthLink user for several years, said he now has to redial for five to 10 minutes to get a connection to the network.

In its defense, WorldNet is touting the results of a survey released earlier this year by Inverse Network Technologies, a Santa Clara, Calif., firm that tracks ISP performance. The survey found that in late December and early January, the average "call failure rate" among 10 ISPs was 6%. WorldNet's call failure rate was 4.2%, compared with 41.3% for AOL.

EarthLink's performance was also included in the survey, but the company declined to share the results.

Even if WorldNet is still performing above the industry average, customers say they are unhappy about the trend.

"Recently, I've noticed an increasing number of busy signals," said Amar Balikai of White Plains, N.Y. "It's starting to sound a lot like my friend's stories about AOL."

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