AT&T WorldNet Demand Exceeds Capacity
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AT&T WorldNet is aggressively responding to complaints about busy signals being posted at its member's only bulletin board which has seen hundreds of complaints over the past week from users dealing with busy signals and slow download speeds.
An AT&T spokesperson said late Friday that some areas of the WorldNet network were experiencing congestion as a result of the company's successful December advertising campaign. The call problems also come on the heels of the company's decision to once again offer an unlimited pricing plan.
WorldNet said a team of service representatives has diligently responded to every complaint within hours.
WorldNet's problems are similar to other ISPs that have implemented unlimited pricing plans. Shortly after going to unlimited pricing in late 1996, America Online gained national attention when users began complaining of problems connecting. The complaints became so widespread, attorneys general from several states eventually became involved and negotiated refunds for many subscribers. Shortly after those problems, AOL began a massive upgrade program that cost more than $300 million.
Chris Roeckl, research manager at Inverse Network Technology said call failure rates increased across the industry from December 1998 to January 1999.
"Basically we're seeing the same phenomenon in call failure rate increases as we did during the post-holiday season last year," Roeckl said. "People get their Christmas PCs in December and get connected in January so there's a natural increase in online activity."
Stone said the problems were only occurring in "hot spots" with high concentrations of customers.
Roeckl added that preliminary call failure test results for January 1999 increased 5.1 percent from December to January. Of the 30 national ISPs tested, 13.6 percent failed to answer incoming calls on a first attempt during peak evening hours in January. Call failure rates in December 1998 averaged 8.5 percent for the 28 national ISPs tested.
WorldNet's 4.7 percent call failure rate for January is nearly 9 percent below the national average.
The unpublished Inverse metrics were performed during peak evening hours at 6 p.m. to midnight from Jan. 6th through Jan. 20th. Thirty national ISPs were tested on call failure rates in 42 major metropolitan markets.
In final quarter of last year, WorldNet launched a massive marketing campaign heralding the new, unlimited service that included six email addresses and 30 megabytes of Web space. According to Stone, AT&T WorldNet experienced "significant growth" as a result of the "Better than Six" television commercials. AT&T ended 1998 with almost 1.4 million subscribers.
Roeckl pointed out that Inverse has been testing AT&T for a long time and that during the third quarter of 1998 WorldNet completed a systematic infrastructure upgrade of their network. Roeckl said that he had never seen such a "huge improvement of call failure rate test scores." WorldNet had posted five consecutive months of near perfect first-call connectivity metrics, according to Inverse.
Over the next three months AT&T plans to upgrade the company's network in 45 U.S. cities where demand has exceeded capacity.
"We know where the demand is and there's a significant amount of expansion happening in the first quarter. We are adding capacity in the few hot spots where we have identified congestion. Whenever we can, we will beat the target dates," Stone said.
Before deciding to once again offer an unlimited plan, AT&T put a 150-hour cap on its $19.95 a month pricing plan. The service shifted to that pricing in May after determining 3 percent of its users were responsible for the vast majority of WorldNet's usage.
AT&T said the move back to an unlimited offering was to meet the demands of customers.