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AOL Users Will Need to Pay $2 a Month For Phone Support 202

Posted by timothy
from the dear-mom-and-pop-send-money dept.
destinyland writes "8.7 million AOL subscribers face a new 20% fee increase next month — unless they agree to never call AOL's technical support lines. They'll have to use AOL chat for support or the online help "portal" unless their issue is a failed connection — and they're being enrolled in the program by default unless they opt out. Ominously, AOL used the exact same wording as when they quietly changed their terms of service to allow them to sell subscribers' home phone numbers to telemarketers. 'Your continued subscription to the AOL service constitutes your acceptance of this change.'"
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AOL Users Will Need to Pay $2 a Month For Phone Support

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  • by stinerman (812158) <nathan@stine.gmail@com> on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:24PM (#24050199) Homepage

    Wow. I'm surprised AOL still has that many customers.

    Come on guys, let's get grandma off AOL.

    • by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:31PM (#24050317)

      This surprises you after so many voted a potted plant back into the presidency after such obvious failure in 2004?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fm6 (162816)

      Then you have to teach grandma how to use Thunderbird. OK, you'd probably enjoy doing it, but most grandmas don't have a friendly geek handy. Hence the 8.7 million.

      Look at it this way: after all the CDs and floppies they sent out, they have a retention rate of 0.00000000001%!

    • AOL "scam" e-mails (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Phairdon (1158023) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:09PM (#24050877)

      You aren't kidding about grandmas.

      In addition, it seems to me that AOL is tricking people into accepting this $2 increase. Let me explain:

      My wife's grandma uses AOL and she told me that she got an e-mail that said that her bill will go up by $2 every month unless you click this link and answer some account security questions. I immediately thought this was a fake e-mail to get grandmas account information. I looked at the e-mail and it looks just like the false bank emails that I receive all the time. However, I called AOL and it ended being a true e-mail.

      We have been trained to ignore e-mails with wording like this, how many old people do you think will just delete this e-mail and end up getting charged an extra $2?

      • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:16PM (#24050971) Journal
        If I had mod points you'd get an insightful for that.

        Here in the UK I got a final demand, big red letters and everything, for about £12 from N-Power, a electricity supplier. Strangely, I didn't have an account with them. Reading the small print (very carefully) revealed that it was in fact a "final chance" to pay a £12 fee and have your power supply *switched* to N-Power. It's a despicable way to operate, and seemingly becoming more common.
        • I had something along the same lines last week....Some piece of junk mail from a "Dealer Services" in St. Louis trying to look as official as possible, and proclaiming that my 2007 car's 10-year warranty was going to expire if I didn't call RIGHT NOW and sign up for whatever scam service they're peddling.

      • by SeaFox (739806)

        In addition, it seems to me that AOL is tricking people into accepting this $2 increase. Let me explain:

        My wife's grandma uses AOL and she told me that she got an e-mail that said that her bill will go up by $2 every month unless you click this link and answer some account security questions.

        Either that of they're tricking people into giving up their right to unlimited technical support. I bet if you do keep the old rate and give up the support they start charging you a $19.95 "per incident" fee or somethin

    • by zakezuke (229119)

      Wow. I'm surprised AOL still has that many customers.

      I'm not, though they were at 9.3 million at the end of 2007.

      http://www.isp-planet.com/research/rankings/usa.html [isp-planet.com]

      They bought out Compuserve IIRC, which i'm sure is included in those numbers. In fact, the solution to Vista was to switch to AOL.

      AOL has been around a long time. It's been well, a decade since I looked into it, but for number of access numbers they rivaled Compuserve, and compuserve was huge in the 1980s. If you were a world traveler, and needed to access your e-mail, AOL was a legit option.

      A

    • by nog_lorp (896553)
      Or old guys who have free cable and live too far away from any hubs for DSL, like a guy I know. Still, who is surprised? I'm still wondering why the fuck Time Warner merged with them. We all thought AOL was gonna be over soon, and they had to ruin it.
  • probably lose half of them with this price hike.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Orion Blastar (457579)

      Heh, even if AOL raised their rates to $30/month for dial-up they will still have 8.7 million dial-up users.

      As P. T. Barnum used to say "There is a sucker born every minute." and to rephrase that "There is an AOL user born every minute."

      The one thing that AOL has going for them, is that even computer illiterate users can use it, just pop in the AOL CD and let Autorun install the software they need. Most computer literate users have moved on to broadband and installed their own NIC card and broadband DSL or

  • The death spiral (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:26PM (#24050255)

    as they descend in AOHell; desperate grabs at revenue are being made. It was tough to cancel before; no you can't do it on weekends or holidays.

    After creating eternal September they are sliding to obscurity.

  • All easy jokes I could make here aside, that's pretty amazing that AOL still has that many (presumably paying) subscribers.

    • by tilandal (1004811) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:45PM (#24050499)

      Most of them tried to cancel but AOL wouldn't let them.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Ares (5306)

        my wife had aohell before we moved in and i addicted her to broadband. at the time they were still charging $2.95 a month for the email address, which we tried fruitlessly to cancel, and they perpetually billed her credit card $2.95 a month for the next few months after which the card expired.

        needless to say she received paper bills for about 3 months threatening to cancel her account. they never did and subsequently decided to pass out @aim.com email addresses for free. there really is a bunch of nuts at t

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        You got modded funny, but it's actually very true. Before my area had ANY broadband, we had AOL. The local dial-up ISP started charging outrageous rates, so we switched out. (This was in early 2000.)

        Anyway, after years of promises, we finally got broadband from our local cable company, and I called to cancel our AOL service. I was greeted by what sounded like a computer with an Irish accent. Even funnier was that he would literally sing the last part of every line he would say. "Hello, thank you for calling

        • To cancel AOL. Call, tell them who you are, say I wish to cancel. They will beg and plead, etc. Say "Cancel my service." then hang up. Then, dispute the charges when they bill you. This is much faster.
  • Correction (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tx (96709) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:27PM (#24050265) Journal

    "Your continued subscription to the AOL service constitutes your proof that you are a fool and deserve to be parted from your money."

    There, fixed it.

  • Keep getting billed (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bomarc (306716) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:28PM (#24050285) Homepage
    My grandmother decided to leave AOL. AOL however, would not leave her. She kept getting billed, and could not disconnect for MONTHS after the fact. I never did find out what the end result was, but (in the past) it was normal for AOL to 'not' disconnect your service when you asked them to...
    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:37PM (#24050383) Journal

      The best thing to do is to call your credit card company and inform them that AOL is still continuing to bill you after you've already quit their service, and that you want to block any further attempts by AOL to bill your credit card. Unfortunately, for the money you've already paid, you're probably going to have to see a lawyer, and it just isn't worth it, despite the fact that fraudulent billing is actually a pretty serious offense.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Feanturi (99866)

        Actually, I had a situation where a dating website suddenly billed me almost a year after I had cancelled my subscription. It was probably the yearly premium for highlighting the profile or somesuch (the actual subscription fee was monthly, which had stopped when I cancelled), and since I did not actually have an active account at the time, there was no profile for them to highlight for this premium charge. I told VISA the situation, and they did a chargeback to the company that billed me. I was not require

        • by Obfuscant (592200) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:15PM (#24050967)
          just VISA, who gave me my money back ...

          This is the big difference between using a credit card and a debit card.

          With a credit card, VISA isn't giving you your money back. By LAW, you don't have to pay a disputed charge. You don't give them the money in the first place so they can't "give it back".

          With a debit card you are unprotected. Your money is gone. IF the bank wants to give it back to you, they can. If they want to run you through the wringer and make you jump hoops, they can. And then they can say you must have authorized the charge for it to happen, and sorry, your account is now overdrawn.

          Not enough people realize this difference. A local university is trying to push a combined debit card/id card onto the students and they are telling the students that their debit card will be protected just like a credit card. They're being told that it won't matter if they HAVE to carry the card every day to use Uni resources and happen to lose it, their bank accounts will be safe. Yes, you can safely hand the dweeb behind the library checkout desk your id/debit card to get that reserved item. You can safely hand the work-study student at the gym your debit card/id to check out a basketball.

          All those who want the "convenience" of one card for everything will soon learn the inconvenience of dealing with a debit card fraudulent charge. Maybe it's just a way that the uni is teaching; teaching people to mistrust all government.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by djtack (545324)

            All those who want the "convenience" of one card for everything will soon learn the inconvenience of dealing with a debit card fraudulent charge

            This just isn't true. My debit card was stolen once, and one quick phone call reversed the fraudulent charges.

            Before you think that I just got luck with a friendly bank, realize that the Fair Credit Billing Act [ftc.gov] requires banks to refund disputed charges, even on debit cards. The bank then has 90 days to investigate.

            This is essentially the same rules as a credit

            • by Obfuscant (592200)
              ... the Fair Credit Billing Act requires banks to refund disputed charges, even on debit cards.

              Thank you for the link. If you read the information at the link you provided, you will see the following statement:

              The law applies to "open end" credit accounts, such as credit cards, and revolving charge accounts - such as department store accounts.

              This law applies only to credit accounts and creditors. Debit cards are not credit. They are a direct line into your bank account. The bank that issued them is no

          • by evilviper (135110)

            With a credit card, VISA isn't giving you your money back. By LAW, you don't have to pay a disputed charge. You don't give them the money in the first place so they can't "give it back".

            With a debit card you are unprotected. Your money is gone. IF the bank wants to give it back to you, they can. If they want to run you through the wringer and make you jump hoops, they can. And then they can say you must have authorized the charge for it to happen, and sorry, your account is now overdrawn.

            This is utterly wro

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Fweeky (41046)

        Unfortunately, for the money you've already paid, you're probably going to have to see a lawyer

        Nope; dispute the charges, the card company will issue chargebacks unless they can give proof of delivery. Good luck doing that with a service.

        Of course you shouldn't do this unless you've exhausted other channels, but it's exactly the right thing to do if you keep getting billed and customer services won't help.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bcrowell (177657)

        The best thing to do is to call your credit card company and inform them that AOL is still continuing to bill you after you've already quit their service, and that you want to block any further attempts by AOL to bill your credit card.

        This doesn't actually work, in my experience. They can't permanently block a recurring charge like this. What actually does work is if you tell the credit card company that AOL is being unresonsive, and therefore you want to change your credit card number. This sounds like a

        • Actually, you're wrong about the reoccurring charge thing. They can EASILY block all charges from a company, and I've had it offered to me (and taken them up on that offer). This was with HSBC.
      • Unfortunately, for the money you've already paid, you're probably going to have to see a lawyer, and it just isn't worth it, despite the fact that fraudulent billing is actually a pretty serious offense

        Let's assume AOL is $25/month after taxes and surcharges. 1 year is 12 months * $25 = $300. For 2 yeaars, $600. For 5 years, $1500. All are well within small claims court territory. If she could prove she called to disconnect, such as having received a disconnect confirmation, having phone records, or havin

      • As much as I understand, credit card companies in general do chargebacks if you dispute a charge within 6 months of the disputed charge. Some allow more outdated disputes.

    • Seriously. The people who man the faxes aren't paid for customer retention, and certainly aren't going to fax back a note that reads 'R U shure'. Plus, there's the added benefit of having a receipt for the paper trail.

      If you don't have a fax machine, you should be able to do it from your local copy shop or anywhere else that offers fax-for-fee services.

    • That's a common story. My advice? Call your credit card company and tell them your card was lost or stolen. They'll change the account over to a completely different number, and AOL can't charge you anymore. When they call to complain that they can't get their subscription fee, you remind them you cancelled..
  • by RockMFR (1022315) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:28PM (#24050293)
    Will calling them to cancel your service constitute technical support? If so, this plan is ingenious!
  • by quibbs0 (803278) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:29PM (#24050299)

    Rumor has it that the once free IM service is now going to a $.10 per sent or received IM message.

  • For crying out loud! How can you Americans keep accepting this load of BS?

    Stuff like that would never fly here in Denmark, what happened to the customer is always right etc?

    • by oahazmatt (868057)

      what happened to the customer is always right etc?

      I've not held a job in a long time where that was management's philosophy. That phrase died in the 1950s as far as I'm concerned.

      It's no longer "the customer is always right". It is now "the customer is a continuing revenue stream".

      Hell, at one of my ISP jobs, the manager's philosophy was "the customer doesn't need to know".

      Case-in-point, the company was bought and moved to a smaller office as the servers were moved offshore. He put a sign in our first office saying "temporary closed for remodeling,

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stretch0611 (603238)

      Unfortunately, the philosophy of "the customer is always right" went out the door with "congressmen listen to their constituents."

      The good corporate citizens started screwing the system at the same time they learned use lobbyists have congressmen look the other way. Legislation made it harder for new companies to compete and the existing corporations said fuck you customers, there is no where else for you to go.

      There are still a few good companies out there but they are unfortunately hard to find in this da

    • by Feanturi (99866)

      The customer has rarely ever been right. That little catchphrase was the ploy of a desperate business during the Great Depression, to get people to come in. It was stupid then and it's stupid now.

    • Well AOL has lobbyists who pay politicians a lot of money to look the other way on their business practices. basically AOL's business practices are illegal, like refusing to turn off billing for a customer that canceled an account with them and still charging their credit card $24 each month.

      But then that is the way our US government works, if a company can afford to hire lobbyists to pay off politicians, they can do whatever they want to the US citizens and get away with it. A lot of stuff gets passed in C

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mazarin5 (309432)

      Didn't you hear? We're not customers anymore, we're consumers.

  • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv.gmail@com> on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:39PM (#24050429) Homepage

    Nostalga is okay but in this case who gives a flying fuck? AOL is irrelevant. They are a internet portal and dialup provider. I'm with the posts that say "hey i didn't know AOL still had users!" but I take it a step further in that I don't want to know either. Back when they had a huge market share they were relevant and their pricing practices deserved scrutiny, even if 99.9% of slashdotters thought it's service was foul. Now they have to compete for the scraps of dialup users who don't want to upgrade to broadband, and that market is neither vibrant nor growing. We don't post pricing practices of Juno or netzero, do we?

    C'mon it can't be that slow a news day can it?

  • by Scutter (18425) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:41PM (#24050441) Journal

    What's astonishing to me is the number of AOL users I encounter who continue to use AOL even after switching to broadband, not because they like AOL's features, but because they think that's the only way to the internet.

    "You mean I don't have to use AOL to browse the intarwebs? I don't understand!"

    • by techno-vampire (666512) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:56PM (#24050697) Homepage
      I was doing tech support for an ISP back when AOL started its "Bring your own interet" program, where you could use AOL through other providers. I remember getting a call from a woman who complained that "Once I log on and start AOL, all I get is AOL. What do I need you for?"

      I explained to her how once she'd opened AOL she was just using us to get to them and that if she wanted all of the Internet, uncensored, unfiiltered, all she had to do was not connect to AOL, just open her browser and have fun. She decided to cancel her service with us.

      • by rob1980 (941751)
        I've had that happen to me as well at least once. People who have been on AOL for years can't separate AOL from the internet, instead operating under the assumption that their little walled garden is the internet. It's unfortunate, really.
        • their little walled garden...

          It's interesting that you should use that phrase. Back in the day, I'd explain that if you were using AOL, it was like being in a big building. You could use anything in the building, and there were windows in the walls so that you could see what was outside, but you had to stay inside. With a real ISP, you were out on the streets and could go wherever you felt like and do anything you wanted instead of just what we thought you should do.

      • by Buran (150348)

        So how did she get to her precious AOL after she didn't have any service?

      • by Jimmy King (828214) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:53PM (#24051459) Homepage Journal

        I used to do tech support for an ISP who lost a few customers due to AOL, too. It was for a different reason, though.

        They had both AOL and us (I don't remember why... probably just testing the waters of a normal ISP as they still had to dial into AOL to use it, if I remember right). Unfortunately, AOL was modifying the tcp stack so that DNS only worked when connected to them. If you uninstalled TCP/IP and reinstalled it, everything would work perfectly while connected to us. That is, until they connected to AOL again, it downloaded a forced update, and that forced updated caused DNS to only work when connected to AOL dial-up. Naturally, the customers then thought our service didn't work right and would stick with AOL.

        I thought the first one was a fluke. Unfortunately, this continued to be seen by myself and others there on a regular basis for quite some time.

        • by techno-vampire (666512) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:48PM (#24052101) Homepage
          That was AOL 5, IIRC. Gave us a lot of trouble, too, because even after you'd uninstalled it, you still couldn't resolve DNS. One of our techs finally found a way to fix it: you not only had to remove/reinstall DUN, you had to hand remove a number of the .386 files involved, and make sure that when you reinstalled, you did not keep the newer versions. From what I understand, the AOL techs warned that it wasn't ready for release, but the marketdroids insisted. As I said, AOL is constantly shooting itself in the foot.
  • by oahazmatt (868057) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:42PM (#24050453) Journal

    'Your continued subscription to the AOL service constitutes your acceptance of this change.'"

    You mean the continued subscription because AOL has a retention pool designed to endlessly throw offers and incentives (including months of free service, if necessary) to keep their customers?

    I've known people who have had to report their Credit Card as lost to get out of paying for AOL.

  • AOL? (Score:2, Funny)

    by sizzzzlerz (714878)

    I haven't heard of them before. Are they new? You'd think they'd advertise to drum up business.

  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @04:45PM (#24050501) Homepage
    Years ago I got the impression that AOL was walking around carrying a pair of hand guns pointing at their own feet. At random intervals, they pull one of the triggers and shoot themselves in the foot. Once in a while, they pull both at once. AFAIC, this new policy is just AOL running true to form and shooting themselves in the feet.
  • Give me your watch. Right, then . . .

    Your continued presence within my eyesight constitutes acceptance of the assertion that I have a right to take everything of value you have. Wallet, jewelery, cash please?

  • by Typingsux (65623)

    Alot of losers

  • Could I just start sending a company bills? I've changed my terms of service. I'm their customer using their service, but now they must pay be $50 for the privilege of me using their service. That I'm still using their service means that they accept the terms of my customer license agreement and they must now pay my bill otherwise I'll cancel my customer service with them and that'll be a $500 disconnection charge.

    I don't have balls enough to try that. I'm sure some else here does. I'd almost want to know w

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      "That I'm still using their service means that they accept the terms of my customer license agreement"

      You would want to change that to:

      "Continuing to provide service to my account means that you accept the terms of my customer license agreement"

      Remember, it's what THEY do that signifies their acceptance. I don't see why this wouldn't be valid, as long as you are not already in a contract. Of course if you are, THEY can't change the contract either.

      My guess is that any business you were dealing
      • For the most part, Accounts Payable pays any bill they get. Unless it's super weird, they won't question it. And even if they do, they're likely to send off payment before investigating.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by freedom_india (780002)

      Yes.
      You and AOL are in a contract. Contractual law states that any one party cannot unilaterally change the material terms of the contract without concurrence in writing of ALL parties of the contract.
      Since AOL does not ask for your permission to change, the contract is void.
      You can send AOL a bill for breaking terms of the contract plus costs. Sue them in a small-claims court and get your money back.
      Alternately if they fail to pay you can ask the court declare them bankrupt.

  • It's amazing how prejudiced the responses have been. Try thinking about it. If AOL charges nothing for tech support, then all of their customers subsidize the ones that require tech support. Should the technically savvy have to subsidize the people that abuse technical support?

    Plus this is nothing new. Telephone-based customer service is at the customer's expense in lots of places around the world, because the person making the telephone call pays the bill. So it is typical for an ISP to charge a eur

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by xxRamielxx (904849)

      they make the U.S. look like they are decades behind.

      That's because we ARE decades behind....

  • by BuckaBooBob (635108) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:22PM (#24051051)

    Write on the back of your next payment to AOL

    By cashing this Cheque AOL agrees it is their fault I am downloading Music/Video's and accepts full responsibility of my actions on the internet.

    It would be quite humorous to see what they would do. or if they caught it at all.
       

  • by Duncan Blackthorne (1095849) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:26PM (#24051101)
    In other news.. apparently AOL is still in business. Who knew?

    AOL: Now with 100% more terrible customer service! (Because you have to PAY for it now)

  • Wow (Score:2, Interesting)

    by evolvearth (1187169)
    So they're going to charge you to attempt to cancel your service. It's amazing that they're still even around considering their shady business practices. If you want to know how not to run a business, you always have AOL as your guide.
    • by Arimus (198136)

      Err... Given AOL are still around, still make money, still keep going on despite the general view on them then I'd say they probably are a good guide....

      (Ok, I know what you mean and no they shouldn't be a guide but your statement is slightly contradictory ;) )

  • Of going to a Denny's and getting a Classic Midnight Waitress. Getting that Classic 3 am terrible service. Then at the end being told you HAVE to tip. When you argue they point to a little post-it note on the floorboards near the entrance that says, "Buy eating this food you agree to tip no matter what!" While the 2$'s may be an enforceable fee, the opt in somehow I think will not withstand a court challenge.
  • The freakin' article indicates that the $2 increase is only for dial-up customers. It says nothing about broadband AOL users receiving a monthly fee increase. I can't find any clear numbers stating how many of its 8.7 million subscribers are dial-up users vs. broadband customers.

    Also, for what it's worth, CNET shares a different take on this issue in its article AOL rate increase maybe not as dumb as it looks [cnet.com].

  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Friday July 04, 2008 @12:43AM (#24055129)

    AOL is hardly the only company to do this. Technical support is one of the most expensive parts of an ISP's services, and even companies with sophisticated products can burn many hours of technical support on fairly minor problems that their first-tier and second-tier staff have no chance of understanding, because it's not in the troubleshooting flowchart they use. Someone has to actually understand the problem, or have tried a similar configuration.

    VMware does nearly this. Their dial-up and online support is, frankly, useless, and points you to the customer forums. unfortunately, those customer forums are so deluged with similar problems and no way to expire bad answers and get them out of the forum that it's quite difficult to search through and find the real answer.

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