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PacBell's Glitches Irk Users of E-Mail
By Dale Kasler Bee Staff Writer June 16, 2000
THE SACRAMENTO BEE
Pacific Bell's Internet service suffered another glitch Thursday, temporarily depriving thousands of customers of their e-mail and causing at least some to wonder about the quality of service at one of California's leading Internet providers.
E-mail access was blocked to the company's roughly 144,000 Northern California customers for almost two hours, PacBell said. The problem was caused by "spam" -- the electronic version of junk mail -- that overloaded the system, said PacBell spokesman John Britton.
Britton also blamed human error. The company had equipment in place warning of a flood of spam, but system engineers didn't react quickly enough to the alert, he said.
Customers contacted by The Bee said they were beginning to get fed up with the frequency of e-mail problems.
"Same thing as always," said Sacramentan Steve Smith, who runs a real estate Web site. "It's an ongoing problem. They're either not capable of fixing it or they don't care."
Customers lost e-mail access for about 20 hours June 5-6. In late March, a heavy volume of traffic caused some messages to be delayed for several hours or returned to sender.
Smith said there have been several other e-mail shutdowns, usually for a couple of hours or so, that have gone unreported.
"It's been about every two or three weeks, they're down for two or three hours a day," agreed Andrea Burgdorf, a self-employed Sacramento businesswoman. "I'm just fit to be tied."
PacBell's Britton said he doesn't believe the problems have been that frequent, but added that the company isn't satisfied with its record recently.
"The vast majority of the time, our network is up and running," he said. But "the aberration levels are higher than we're comfortable with."
The company is working to address those problems and will try to satisfy disappointed customers by offering them things such as a free month's service to compensate for the problems, he said.
"On a case-by-case basis, we'll talk to customers," Britton said. "We realize people have choices."
PacBell generally has gotten good marks from the experts. The company's Internet service was rated seventh in PC World magazine's ratings of 20 major providers published about a year ago.
The problems come at a difficult time for PacBell, which has made a serious push into the Internet access business. There are hundreds of Internet providers in California, and a host of new competitors, including heavyweights like US West, are fighting with PacBell in Sacramento over the booming market for ultra-fast Internet service known as DSL.
And the No. 1 issue for just about every Internet subscriber is e-mail.
"Most people sign up with an (Internet service provider) to have e-mail," said Max Smetannikov, who covers the industry for the online publication Inter@ctive Week.
"E-mail problems are nothing new," he added. "We've seen them plague everybody."
Some PacBell subscribers have complained to the state Public Utilities Commission, to no avail. "We have authority over the local phone service but not the Internet service," said Dianne Dienstein, assistant to the PUC's executive director.
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), June 16, 2000