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Help File: Confusion as AT&T Worldnet winds down

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Q: AT&T sent me a notice saying they would end my Worldnet DSL service March 31. Then they migrated my DSL to dial-up the next day without asking me. I am irritated, to say the least.

A: This reader's e-mail led to many head-scratching moments, starting with this: Is AT&T dumping Worldnet -- the online service an earlier version of the company launched with a flurry of publicity in 1995?

The Dallas telecommunications conglomerate is doing just that. In December, it notified subscribers to advise them of Worldnet's imminent demise and outline options to move their e-mail address to a different connection. In this Bethesda resident's case, she could choose an AT&T dial-up service or DSL provided by Covad, a San Jose-based telecom firm.

But AT&T set up this process in a way that required users converting to Covad to make that switch first and then move their e-mail. A paragraph of boldface text in a lengthy tech-support article warns them that migrating their e-mail to a new, Yahoo-run system before transferring DSL will result in "a disruption in service."

The distinction between an Internet connection and an e-mail service might be obvious to Internet veterans. But it's likely to confuse non-technical subscribers to a service that spent years marketing itself to beginners. AT&T should have provided a simpler, more tolerant migration path.

The reader was among those confused and was understandably irked to be knocked down to dial-up. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel researched her case, apologized for the miscommunication and recommended that she switch to the Covad service (http://covad.com/att). That would be my advice as well for any Worldnet users looking to keep their old e-mail address.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or robp@washpost.com. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.


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