Yesterday, America Online (AOL) confirmed recent rumors that they are dropping fees for broadband users. Anyone who accesses the Internet via a broadband connection can now use AOL's email, software, parental controls, and other features for free. That goes for existing customers and new members alike.
But if you still use dial-up and need AOL as your Internet service provider, you can't have a free account.
Neener, neener, neener.
I've been an AOL member since 1993. When I joined, I think there were about half a million subscribers. For the past five years or so, if not longer, my husband and I have rarely used AOL. We kept the account as a backup and because we'd given my mother, who didn't have broadband service, a screen name. We could have closed the account, but we continued to subsidize my mom's Internet access mostly because it was cheap: we stayed on the $9.95/month plan, which gave us five hours of service, for almost the entire 13 years. My mother was very conscientious about liming her Internet use until about a year ago, when she apparently started chattin' it up on MySpace or something and routinely going over the allotted hours, costing me at least as much as the $22.95 (at the time) fee for unlimited service. That's when I switched to the unlimited plan.
But now Mom has broadband (and cable phone service too — you've come a long way, baby!). Naturally, because it would save me money, she didn't want to give up her AOL account, even though she's paying for email and Web access through her cable provider. (Why do I suddenly hear her lecture long ago about buying the cow and getting the milk for free?) So a couple of months ago, my husband and I talked about just switching the AOL bill to my mother's credit card. But then we got busy with other stuff and forgot all about it.
Now, I can keep the account live without having to pay or make my mother pay. Oh, happy day. $1500 and thirteen years of AOL customer-hood, and I'm finally getting something – but I'm not sure what – for my inexplicable refusal to cancel the account.
I switched over to the free pricing plan (isn't that an oxymoron?) in the wee hours last night. Let me warn you: AOL is not making it easy for us paying customers to stop paying. If they were, we'd be able to switch to the free plan online, in our member account area. But we can't. As of very early this morning, the free pricing plan was not listed among the other pricing plans from which I could choose.
After reading the FAQ about the new direction AOL is taking, I learned that I had to call customer support to switch to the free plan. And we all know what that means: a lot of time on hold.
I tried using the automated system to change pricing plans, but again, the plan wasn't listed among the available choices. I finally figured out how to get in the queue to speak with a real live human being and I waited my turn.
I was told my wait could be as long as 2 1/2 minutes. It was almost ten minutes. But hey, at 2:00 a.m., who's counting?
The upshot: If you want to stop paying for AOL service, call 1-800-984-6207 (in the U.S.). Skip the automated menus and get to a live support person as quickly as you can. Be prepared to tell the service rep that yes, you understand that a) you can't stop paying if you still use dial-up, b) you can't access AOL via dial-up if you're on the road, say, in East Jabib, and c) you can no longer get customer or technical support from AOL.
I've been a member for 13 years. Last night marked the second time I ever called them. I think I'm safe. But if you're worried about needing AOL's timely help, you can still pay $4.95 for the privilege of knowing you can use their technical support services.