News Server Glitch Angers AOL Customers

Thor Olavsrud

Updated · Jan 14, 2003

For a period of nine or 10 days, America Online users were
unable to post messages to the venerable USENET distributed discussion
system, apparently due to a technical problem which prevented messages from
propagating beyond AOL’s news servers. Other AOL users could read the
messages posted, but the messages were not propagated to the wider USENET

While AOL resolved the problem Monday, it left many AOL customers who spend
their time on USENET wondering why they were getting little information
from AOL’s much touted customer service.

“For the past week, or longer, America Online members have been
experiencing problems with posting to USENET Newsgroups,” AOL customer Kim
Hendricks told “America Online members have
recently determined that although the USENET portion of America Online
appears to be running properly, they are in fact being fooled. Posts sent
to newsgroups have been recently hidden from non-AOL members, causing
uproar in the newsgroup using America Online community.”

She continued, “Even worse than the problem itself is the lack of
responsibility America Online has shown in acknowledging there is a
problem. Hundreds to thousands of members cite tech support woes, form
letters being returned in response to their complaints, and America
Online’s own system status report indicating there are no known problems at
this time. Attempts to e-mail Steve Case and the Newsmaster appear to be
lost somewhere in an Internet black hole. A quick glance at or aol.newsgroups.bugs can confirm this. Many members
make claims of having to resort to filing claims with the Federal Trade
Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and/or their state’s consumer
relations department.”

“This is happening in all newsgroups, and this is the third day for it,”
one frustrated poster to the aol.newsgroups.bugs newsgroup wrote on Jan. 7.
“I’m on the phone right now, have been all morning and getting passed
around. I’m online with CompuServe, which AOL tells me handles that part of
their equipment. We’ll see.”

Twenty-six minutes later, the same poster wrote: “Well, after 30 minutes
waiting online for a tech, I finally hung up. Hope the Newsmaster reads
their e-mail.”

The next day, another angry poster wrote to the same newsgroup, “Even after
all of the calls and e-mails, no one has reported that any AOL techs have
seen a problem resolution number on their screens. We deserve the courtesy
of the newsmaster acknowledging the problem on the “problems with
newsgroups” board and an estimated time of repair. I don’t care whether it
is the local bank, or AOL, the customer is paying the bills and should be
given at least that much courtesy. If we just sit back and let ourselves be
treated like children, AOL will continue to treat us as such.”

On Jan. 11, one poster said he had received conflicting answers from AOL
support, with one tech saying that the cause of the problem was not an
error, but new AOL policy. “The phone techs tell me this is now AOL policy,
messages to be provided within the AOL community only,” he wrote. “Online
tech says it is a problem which will be fixed, but no announcement or
e-mail will be sent (which convinces me they are not doing anything with

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said Monday that the cause was, in fact, a
technical problem.

“I can confirm that we had some technical issues affecting USENET Newsgroup
feeds that have since been resolved,” Graham told
However, he would not explain the cause of the problem. “We’re still
looking into the issue,” he said.

Also, contrary to user posts which said the problem began on Jan. 3 or Jan.
4, Graham said, “The issue first became apparent on or around Jan. 7.”

Graham also declined to comment immediately on the customer service issue.

USENET is a world-wide distributed discussion system which consists of a
set of “newsgroups” with names that are classified hierarchically by
subject. When users post messages to newsgroups, the messages are broadcast
to other interconnected computer systems via a variety of networks, with
the bulk of traffic transported over the Internet or UUCP . In
the case of the problems experienced by AOL users over the past days, the
messages were apparently not broadcast beyond AOL’s network.

More Posts By Thor Olavsrud