AOL users still being billed for free email

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

CAVE CREEK, Ariz. -- Traci Casale signed up for Internet service through America Online nearly a decade ago, it was a dial-up account. 

Casale relies on the Internet to get the word out about the Cave Creek Pro-Rodeo, a local business she helps run.

As technology evolved, Casale upgraded to a broadband Internet connection and said goodbye to the screeching sounds of her dial-up account, or so she thought.

Recently while balancing her budget, Casale discovered that she has continued to pay for a $14.95 per month AOL subscription, even though AOL made their email service free to users in 2006.  Even though she no longer used AOL's dial-up Internet connection, Casale didn't want to lose her email address, so she never canceled her account.

“One day I just looked at, you know, you're going through your bills and every bit helps right now and I'm like, ‘Why am I paying for email? No one else is,'” she said.

AOL first began offering online services to consumers in the 1980s, years before the World Wide Web that we know today was even created.  During the explosive growth of the Internet in the 90s, AOL became the world's most popular Interent Service Provider (ISP) with millions of cusotmers subscribing to their dial-up Internet service.

By 2005, most Internet users had switched over to broadband accounts through their local cable provider or telephone company.  This forced AOL to shift their business away from providing subscriber-based connection services, opting instead to offer advertiser-supported content for free to consumers.  

In June 2005, AOL opened their content and email services to everyone for free. However, many long-time AOL subscribers continued to pay their monhly service fee.

Public tax documents reveal that the company is clinging to revenue generated by subscriptions as they continue to realign the business.

Casale says she isn't interested in helping AOL make ends meet and canceled her subscription.

Ken Colburn of Data Doctors says a lot of consumers, like Casale, are unaware they're still paying for AOL services because their bill is either electronically charged or put on their credit card.

Another reason, Colburn says, is because consumers are worried they'll lose their email account if they cancel.

“Unfortunately, people believe that they have to keep paying AOL to keep that email address, which is not the case at all,” he explained.

Colburn says most of the people who still rely on AOL's dial-up service  live in rural areas where there are no other Internet service providers.

He says consumers paying AOL solely for email should call the company, cancel and ask for their email to be transferred to a free account.

As for Casale, she now uses another free email service to promote her rodeo, but says she's still kicking herself for paying for a free service for all those years.

“There's a lot of free email options out there. There's, in my opinion, nothing the $14.95 a month gets you,” she said.

Today's AOL subscriptions also include identity theft protection and a computer repair credit.

Just how often do people actually take advantage of those perks?

We tried contacting AOL to find out and for comment on our story but, so far, we haven't heard back.