Verizon Online Users’ E-Mail Problems Persist
By Peter S. Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2000; Page E01
More than a week after its network buckled under a torrent of junk e-mail, and two days after the company vowed to fully restore service, customers of Verizon Communications Inc. yesterday continued to suffer severe problems exchanging messages over the Internet.
The company said it had yet to completely clear its network of the spam–or junk e-mail sent in bulk–that first assaulted its system last Tuesday, bringing traffic to a crawl. As many as a third of the company’s 200,000 customers first affected were still either cut off from e-mail or encountering delays sending and receiving messages.
“Most of our customers are already experiencing fairly smooth delivery again,” said Alex Coleman, vice president and general manager of Verizon Online in Reston. “There is a small population of our customers that is still experiencing some of the problems, but we anticipate having the systems really fully cleaned out within the next couple of days.”
Verizon said it is continuing to investigate the source of the junk mail. Though Verizon initially portrayed the influx of e-mail as an effort to sabotage its system, Coleman stepped back from that assertion yesterday, declining to call the spike in messages malicious. He said the spam was “just your normal junk mail–advertising, various and sundry messages to customers.”
Verizon also confirmed that its e-mail problems set in more than a week before last Tuesday’s gridlock: It said two earlier waves of junk mail delayed e-mail delivery the day after Thanksgiving, and again several days after that.
Coleman said Verizon has added capacity to its system in recent days to make itself less vulnerable to sudden increases in message traffic. Asked if that meant the company should have anticipated the trouble and built extra capacity in advance, Coleman said: “We thought that we had enough capacity to handle the 200,000-plus customers that were residing on our platform.”
Verizon customers have long complained about routine difficulties in installation of DSL, or digital subscriber line, a technology that provides high-speed Internet access over telephone lines. With e-mail messages now taking days to reach their destinations and some disappearing into the ether, many customers accused the company of compounding the pain by withholding information about the trouble.
“They’re a nightmare,” said Bill Neville, who oversees a real estate office in Old Town Alexandria and depends on his Verizon high-speed Internet service for e-mail. “We’re trying to run a business. You just can’t get any messages. You hit ‘Get Message’ and it keeps repeating, looking for the server, and nothing happens.”
Many customers said that when they called Verizon, they endured nearly an hour on hold only to learn from a customer service operator that the source and duration of the continuing e-mail blockage were a mystery.
“I’m very angry and frustrated,” said Adrienne Whyte, who runs a management consulting business out of her home in Falls Church using Verizon’s DSL services. “They’ve been totally irresponsible in refusing to communicate the problem and what they’re doing to solve it to their customers through their Web site. I have looked and looked and looked for some acknowledgment, and there’s nothing.”
Whyte said she could not send or receive any e-mail for most of yesterday morning. The one time she was able to connect to Verizon’s server, two brief messages that would ordinarily arrive in a flash took more than 15 minutes to arrive. “They’ve had a week now to fix it, and obviously they haven’t,” she said.
Several customers said Verizon’s e-mail problems predate by more than a week the day the company says the spam attack began. Andrew Stephen, a British journalist living in Georgetown, said he e-mailed the company’s tech-support system on Nov. 21 complaining of intermittent problems sending and receiving e-mail, and re-sent the message last week.
“I never gotten a reply to either,” he said. “E-mail has been bad for a long time.”
Last week Verizon said that it had choked off the source of the spam in the latest attack, but a huge backlog of messages percolating through the system was likely to delay e-mail delivery for several more days. Yesterday the company said the backlog had been cleared, blaming the remaining troubles in part on a technique it employed to prevent messages from being lost permanently amid the gridlock. But the company also cited other factors for the continuing delay, among them a seasonal increase in e-mail traffic.
“At this time of year there’s a lot of mail being transmitted to friends and relatives,” Coleman said. “When people send large numbers of files over the Internet, it does take a little longer for those messages to arrive.”
Several customers scoffed at that explanation, accusing Verizon of sloughing off responsibility for overmarketing its Internet business while skimping on the equipment and staff needed to make it work. Some likened the e-mail gridlock to America Online’s early days, when many customers encountered busy signals when they tried to connect to the service.
“If they can’t handle what they’ve got, why are they adding more and more people?” said Christine Helms, a freelance writer and consultant who works out of her home in the District. “What do I tell my clients? ‘Sorry you haven’t been able to reach me for the last six days; it will clear up after the holidays’? I’ll go look for another Internet provider.”