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America Online beset by outages amid wave of new subscribers

January 17, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Beset by technical glitches and frustrated subscribers, America Online apologized and promised to aggressively address the problems.

The nation’s largest online service had more technical trouble Thursday, a day after its second major outage since the summer forced it to shut off service to 100,000 users, or about half the subscribers online at the time of the problem.

AOL has been struggling to accommodate a flood of users who are taking advantage of a new pricing policy that allows unlimited access for $19.95 a month.

The outage Thursday shut down the online service’s chat rooms for about two hours after a periodic upgrade. Company spokeswoman Trisha Primrose and other company officials could not explain the problem.

The outage Wednesday was not related to heavy usage, Primrose said. Technicians first discovered a problem at about 2:15 p.m., but were unsure of the cause.

The company reduced its capacity to 50 percent in order to fix the glitch, cutting off service to the roughly 100,000 users, Primrose said.

The problem was soon identified as a malfunctioning router, which directs data through the AOL network. Full service was restored at 8 p.m.

Steve Case, the company’s chairman and chief executive, apologized to subscribers in a letter Thursday, though he gave no sign of any plans to suspend the flat fee.

He said the company will spend $350 million to increase capacity. AOL also will scale back marketing efforts to attract new members until it can handle a larger volume of calls.

In August, AOL’s entire system was down for almost 19 hours due to errors by technicians during a planned shutdown for maintenance.

The latest woes come as subscribers are growing frustrated with busy signals and long delays, especially since December, when the new pricing plan went into effect.

AOL said its subscribers spent a total of 102 million hours online in December, up from 45 million in September. The company also said it recently topped 8 million subscribers, adding 1.2 million in the fourth quarter of 1996 alone.

Earlier this week, a group of California subscribers sued AOL for $20 million, claiming it was too difficult to dial in.

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