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Newsbytes was first alerted to the situation by e-mail messages from AOL members. Rex Wockner of San Diego wrote us and said that for the past month, mail coming into AOL from the Internet has been delayed for up to five days. "This problem exists mostly during the week and they tend to get caught up with deliveries on Saturday and Sunday."
Newsbytes then looked through the "Sending and Receiving E-Mail" message board in the "Windows Message Exchange," which is located in AOL's "The Mail Center" area. We found dozens of messages asking about the reasons why not only incoming, but outgoing mail is being delayed by hours or even days. One member who claimed to be a contractor with the US government said that the "Feds" and public funded agencies are becoming more insistent on using e-mail because of its timeliness, but "(I) recently have not been receiving ANY e-mail from one of my largest Federal contract recipients, although they can verify sending."
AOL spokesperson Tricia Primrose confirmed that the online service is seeing delays with Internet e-mail service. She said the number of e-mail messages AOL handles from and to the Internet has gone up from five million in late 1996 to more than 15 million as of last month.
Primrose said that AOL is upgrading its e-mail capacity, to meet the surge in demand. She said the e-mail system is temporarily shut down on Wednesday mornings every week or every other week for upgrades.
AOL realizes that e-mail is usually a prime mode of communication for many of its members, and represents a "shift in the way that people are communicating." The online service is doing its best to handle the "tremendous growth" in e-mail messages, she added.
Some AOL members might think that ever-present spam messages, or unsolicited commercial e-mails, are contributing to the slowdown. Primrose said a lot of those types of messages are "dropped on the floor," or not delivered to members, because of AOL's PreferredMail e-mail screening feature. While increased spam messages can slow down AOL's e-mail system a bit, she said, such e-mails have never "brought the system to its knees."
To ensure that more e-mails get "dropped on the floor," Primrose encouraged AOLers to forward spam messages to the AOL e-mail address "TOSSpam" (without quotes), so the offenders can be added to the PreferredMail filter.
Primrose also said intra-AOL e-mail, or e-mail sent directly from one AOL member to another, is not affected by the slowdown caused by increased Internet messages.
When will the problems subside? Primrose said she could not peg a precise date and time on such a fix, because the capacity upgrading is an "ongoing process." But she stressed that AOL technicians are working on the problem.
Primrose did say that e-mail is not being lost. She said that when slowdowns do occur or when the e-mail system is brought down for maintenance, all messages are "queued," or stored on a server until they can be delivered.
Some members have claimed in messages at AOL's Mail Center that they have lost e-mail. Primrose said she was not aware of any individual cases of lost e-mail, but that assistance is available for those members.
Newsbytes conducted a very informal, highly unscientific test Monday morning of AOL's e-mail receiving and sending capabilities. We sent e- mail from AOL to addresses at AT&T WorldNet and Microsoft Network (MSN), and sent mail from those services to AOL. Of the test e-mails coming into AOL, the one from MSN took about 17 minutes, while the message from AT&T WorldNet took about 25 minutes. Delivery of mail outgoing from AOL to AT&T WorldNet was almost instantaneous, while it took just four minutes for a message to get from AOL to a MSN account.
Newsbytes notes e-mail problems have hit other online and Internet services in recent months including the Microsoft Network and AT&T's WorldNet.
AOL's Web site is at http://www.aol.com .
(19970701/Press Contact: Tricia Primrose, America Online, 703-265-1746/ Reported By Newsbytes News Network: http://www.newsbytes.com /AOLLOGO/PHOTO)
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