February 08, 2001, 4:39 PM — I'VE GOT GOOD NEWS and bad news. The good news is that many of @Home's cable partners now offer "free e-mail." The bad news is that by "free," @Home means it won't give customers credit on their monthly bill for lost e-mail.
Excite@Home in Redwood City, Calif., has been struggling with e-mail reliability problems for many months, but it's gotten worse of late. While customers of AT&T@Home, Comcast@Home, and other cable providers report there have been some total service outages, what really dismays users is discovering that they are not receiving all of their incoming messages.
An AT&T@Home customer who has regularly tested the amount of e-mail sent to his @Home account that is delayed or simply lost reports the problem has steadily worsened during the past six months. "What's really appalling is that [in January] it's just gone through the roof," he says, noting that nearly one in seven test messages was delayed by at least four days. "And there's no reason to think it's going to get any better, because their main response seems to be coming up with new excuses. Perhaps that's just as well . . . [considering] the [lack of] technical competence to fix these problems they've demonstrated, [because it seems] they are only capable of making things worse."
@Home customers who feel they shouldn't have to pay their full monthly bill because of the e-mail outages are hearing some interesting explanations for why that's not possible. "I had been experiencing the problem for about two weeks and I had missed several critical e-mails, including travel arrangements from my travel agency," wrote a Comcast@Home customer who finally got a technical support representative to admit the service was experiencing problems with its e-mail servers. "I tried to convince him that I should receive some compensation in my billing. He was 'not authorized to provide any credit.' He claimed that e-mail is provided as a 'free service' to @Home customers, so my bill did not include any charges for e-mail."
"This is like if I bought a new car and it didn't run -- can the dealer then tell me the engine was thrown in for free so he's not responsible for it?" wrote another Comcast@Home customer who also was told that @Home e-mail is "free." "It's outrageous . . . There is nothing on their Web site or in the terms of service that says anything about e-mail not being part of [the fees]."
A variation on the "free e-mail" theme was reported by several AT&T@Home customers. After requesting a credit for lost e-mail, they were told that the service is for "recreational" purposes only. "Since it's only a 'recreational service,' I was told by AT&T that I shouldn't depend on getting my e-mail," wrote another reader. "They as much as told me to sign up for a free e-mail account somewhere like Yahoo and use that as my regular address for receiving e-mail."