Subscribers to America Online Inc. say the company's E-mail system has been offline for more than 24 hours.
AOL, which described the delay as temporary, attributed the problem to a scheduled maintenance program that brought the system down Tuesday morning between 5 and 7 a.m. ET.
"There might have been a couple of glitches during the day, but according to our technical folks, everything was up and fine by 2 p.m.," a spokeswoman said, adding that technicians made certain improvements to the mail server's ability to handle attachments. "People shouldn't be having any more problems."
However, by late afternoon some AOL users said the network continued to bounce back their E-mail.
"Your message has been enqueued and undeliverable for 24 hours," read one automated message. "The mail system will continue to try to deliver your message for an additional 24 hours."
Though hardly on a par with the other service mishaps that have overburdened the Vienna, Va.-based online company over the last year, the problem with the mail server comes as AOL finds itself under attack for its inability to provide users with uninterrupted service.
CompuServe Inc., for instance, has sought to cash in on AOL's problems by running a series of print and TV advertisements tweaking its arch-competitor.
Earlier this year, AOL agreed to refund customers who had trouble logging into the service in December and January. AOL's network has been overwhelmed by demand ever since the company rolled out a $19.95-a-month unlimited usage plan late last year.
"Certainly, these glitches tend to be endemic. I hate to draw an analogy to Washington, but this is the kind of stuff that the public tends to think of when they think about online service providers. It's like business as usual," said Gary Ozanich, a senior vice president with Access Media International, in New York. "With AOL being the leader, they have to take the rap a little bit like the old 'Please stand by' days of television."
AOL's network deals with about 20 million E-mails on any given day.