Troubled internet service provider America Online (AOL) has come out worst in a survey of service providers, with junk email the main culprit.
The survey, undertaken by US magazine PC World, polled more than 6,000 users. It tested the services against criteria such as ease of connection, especially during peak hours, email reliability and quality of backup service.
IBM emerged as the most highly rated service provider against the benchmarks.
AOL fared badly when it came to technical backup, connection speed and 'spam' or junk email.
The report warned: 'If you're still thinking of starting up with AOL, be warned. Junk mail is a fact of life on the service, which kicks off with a morass of advertisements for products and services.'
On the other side, AOL - the world's largest online service with over nine million users - did score well on its ease of use and content. The service offers features such as news and financial information on offer in addition to basic internet capabilities.
A representative at AOL pointed out that it was addressing connection problems, and that its recent deal with WorldCom will enable it to triple its network capacity.
He added: 'The company is hiring additional workers in the call centre.
As for the ads, they'll stay because the revenue helps keep prices down for users.'
Chris Lewis, IT analyst at The Yankee Group, believed European users may have better experience of AOL than their US counterparts. He claimed the provider 'sets the standards for online consumer information in Europe'.
Lewis also highlighted the intense competition in the consumer online services sector. He said this explains AOL's high churn rate for subscriptions.
AOL has the resources for significant development of its service and infrastructure, following confirmation of a $200 million line of credit, as well as the cash from the sale of its business division, ANS, to WorldCom.
One analyst commented: 'It is well known that AOL is sitting on a pile of cash, with $750 million to spend on acquisitions.'
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