Vol. 2, Issue 38, November 16, 2004
AOL Admits 40% of Subscribers Don't Have Computers
Leading internet provider America Online (AOL) has confirmed a stunning statistic leaked by a dissatisfied employee last week, in documents sold to Fox News for an undisclosed sum.
"While we vigorously condemn the illegal theft of internal company documents, we must admit that they are in fact authentic," said a grim-looking Joe Redley, AOL's chief marketing officer. "Further, the facts as stated in the memos recently released to news organizations are in fact true; namely, that it does appear that a sizeable percentage of AOL subscribers do not, in fact, possess computers."
Until recently the premier entry point to the Internet frontier, America Online is now trying to reinvent itself in a high-speed Internet world. Parent company Time Warner said last week that AOL lost 646,000 subscribers in the third quarter, reducing its subscriber count to 22.7 million U.S. members as of Sept. 30. It lost two million subscribers year over the previous year. The revelation that 40% of its subscribers do not own computers could not have come at a worse time.
"Well, I got the disk in the mail, and it said if I wanted to subscribe I should send money to these people," said Carl Lewen, an AOL subscriber in Kentucky who does not own a computer. "It never said anything about having to do anything with the disk. I thought it was kind of like a souvenir."
According to the documents obtained by Fox, AOL became aware as early as 2001 that a substantial portion of its subscribers had no idea what a computer was, much less how to use one.
"The fact that they opted not only to keep these clients, but actually pursue such customers with increasing aggressiveness, bespeaks a serious ethical collapse at AOL," said Wired News analyst Mary Kowshik. "It's no wonder they have backed away from offering broadband service to many regions of the country - it is not profitable for them to compete in areas which actually involve offering technical services to people."
AOL was able to get away with this, apparently, because so many people are unclear as to what the internet is, or what benefits to expect from an online account.
"I kind of thought it was like subscribing to the yellow pages," said Lewen. "We kept getting copies of the phone book, so I thought AOL was doing that. I also wanted the virus protection, because it was flu season."
It is unclear whether any charges will be filed against AOL. The only complaint on record at the Internet Fraud Complaint Center is from a dissatisfied AOL subscriber who grumbled that its vaunted pop-up blocking service failed to counteract her husband's Viagra.
"Well, these documents do explain one thing," said Kowshik. "I always wondered how AOL managed to maintain a customer satisfaction rate of 40%. Now we know exactly which 40% of their client base that is."