America Online has suffered two major PR broadsides in just the last few days, one over its dial-up price increases and the other for its plans to charge fees for guaranteed e-mail delivery.
The clumsy handling of the changes were reminiscent of another fee change a decade ago that drew a class-action lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of 19 states. Although that case was eventually settled, the company lost valuable trust among subscribers at a critical juncture in Internet growth.
The reasons behind AOL's recent moves make sense from a business perspective--but it needs to pay more attention to its image among consumers, which is particularly important to the family-oriented company. Before it makes any more changes that so directly affect their subscribers, executives may want to review some of the company's own history for some valuable lessons.
Blog community response:
"This isn't actually that surprising for AOL, which has always shown ambivalence toward the open Internet. In some ways, then, this approach is a return to form, emphasizing control, security, and revenue at the expense of free and open communications."
"AOL's proposed pay-to-send system is the first step down the slippery slope toward dividing the Internet into two classes of users--those who get preferential treatment and those who are left behind."
--Surreal Synthesis and Synchronicity
"AOL is still the number one ISP in the country, and here they are telling all their customers that they're going to raise the rates, yet again, and give them nothing for it in return, yet again."