By Jenny Neyman
As some ACS email customers are experiencing lately, there’s a 21st-century update of the old saw, “The check is in the mail,” and that is, “The email is in the spam filter.”
The situation has some email users about ready to consider carrier pigeons, or at least another service carrier — anything to get their messages delivered.
“I’m incredibly frustrated. I can’t wait it out much longer, it’s affecting my business,” said Kelly Johnson, owner of Floral Design Studio, who uses an ACS account for her business email. “I strive to provide the highest customer service I can, and not being able to communicate with them through email — which is very convenient for most people in this day and age. You know, you don’t really pick up phones a whole lot anymore, it’s all done through email — they expect prompt communication and I’m not able to give that to them.”
Johnson said that about three weeks ago she started getting error messages to emails she’d sent, saying delivery of the email was delayed.
“I had never seen this type of message before. It says, ‘Unfortunately, some messages aren’t sent, please try again.’ And then it says, ‘We have limits for how many messages can be sent per hour, per day.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what that means,’” Johnson said.
Right around that time her husband had downloaded an app on her Android smartphone, on which she checks her email, which coordinates with her email account. She figured the app was causing the problem so she had him take it off her phone, but the problem persisted.
There seemed no consistency to it. She’d click send and all seemed well, and sometimes it was. Other times she’d hear from intended recipients that they were not receiving her emails. Maddening in any circumstance, having a breakdown in communication in April is particularly challenging for Johnson’s business.
“I’m smack dab in the very heat of the moment for wedding season. It’s horrible,” she said. “I strive to provide very high customer service and quality and I — unfortunately, for the last several weeks — have really fallen short. No fault of my own, but still have fallen short. It’s become very, very frustrating,” she said.
Anywhere from hours to days later Johnson would get an error message warning her that her email hadn’t made it through.
“The return emails don’t always come to you right away. Sometimes several days will go by so you’re like, ‘No big deal, it sent.’ You’re waiting for a reply, and then all of a sudden you get this (delivery delay notification),” she said. “And I was thinking, ‘Well, that’s great. How many frustrated clients can I possibly have at one time?’”
The delivery delay notification also says the server will keep trying to send the message for five days. After that Johnson would get a message saying her email failed permanently.
Johnson and others to which she’s talked have noticed that the problem seems to be in trying to reach recipients with Microsoft emails — Hotmail, in particular. She’s been trying to send a price quote to a bride with a Hotmail email account for three weeks now with no success, she said. She finally resorted to taking a picture of the document on her computer screen with her camera phone and texting it to the client.
“So I’m trying to communicate with potential clients and brides that I have booked, and if they are Microsoft users I cannot communicate with them,” Johnson said.
She called ACS technical support at the end of last week, to no noticeable avail. Johnson heard last week that the problem was supposed to be improved Saturday, but she got another delayed delivery notice Monday morning from an email she sent Sunday to a bride — the same one to which she had had to text the price-quote screen shot.
“So as far as I know it has not been resolved,” Johnson said. “It’s just very frustrating and I’m very anxious for them to resolve it quickly.
“I can’t imagine ACS not doing everything they can to fix it. I mean, it’s going to affect them on a much larger scale than it’s going to affect me, I’m a small fish in a pond compared to a multimillion-dollar company that’s having these issues, so I would hope that they would be doing everything they can. But there really isn’t anything (ACS email users) can do except for find other ways to communicate with their customers in the interim, which is easier said than done in a lot of ways.”
But Johnson’s patience is wearing as thin as a blade of grass in a floral bouquet.
“If ACS is not able to play nice in the sandbox with Microsoft here quickly I’m going to switch carriers. I can’t risk losing business because two corporations can’t get along. That’s not my fault. I just can’t do it,” she said.
Hannah Blankenship, associate manager of corporate communications for ACS, said the issue isn’t anything to do with Microsoft — at least, not exclusively Microsoft. But ACS users might notice a problem there because the Microsoft platform is so widely used.
“There may be some consumers that see an issue when emailing other Internet service providers but it’s not specific to another ISP,” she said. “Basically, Windows is the most used operating system and, therefore, the most frequently compromised on some computers. That’s why many customers might be having difficulty sending email to hotmail.com or live.com or msn.com addresses.”
She said that the delays are a matter of too many spam and phishing emails bogging down the ACS system.
“This is not a singular event, this is kind of like an ongoing thing. We have this issue a lot,” Blankenship said. “We have identified as a company an increase in these kinds of spam or phishing emails coming to customers. And because the privacy and security of our customers is our top priority we take action as a company to filter these kinds of messages, and these kinds of actions are resulting in some delays for some customers.”
ACS users might have noticed an uptick in the amount of spam showing up in their inboxes, and the company is working to limit the volume of spam that makes it through to customers. But that process takes some time, Blankenship said, and ACS imposes limitations on email use — both on the number and size of emails being sent, and being received.
“Spammers try to send as many emails to as many email addresses per minute as possible. And as a company we have measures in place, such as rate or recipient limits, to mitigate and prevent spam,” Blankenship said.
If an ACS customer’s inbox is full — with legitimate emails they just haven’t deleted in a while or with an onslaught of spam messages — incoming messages could be blocked and the sender will get a message saying the ACS recipient’s mailbox is full.
On the outgoing end, ACS email users are also limited in how many emails they can send per hour and per day, Blankenship said, again as a way to protect against spam. If a business customer has a legitimate need to send greater than the standard allowed volume (50 per hour), they can contact an ACS business representative to change their account limit, Blankenship said.
But more likely the problem is spam. Spammers can imitate legitimate email addresses closely enough to look like it’s an actual customer trying to send hundreds or more messages at once.
“Our system will limit their capabilities because it thinks they’re spammers, to mitigate the amount of spam going to all users through our servers. Spammers can closely imitate people who are sending legitimate emails, so some users will be marked as spammers as they try to send email and their messages will get caught in our filters,” Blankenship said.
“Internet users are seeing an increased volume of spam and phishing activity across the board, regardless of their Internet service provider,” she said. “What we do with that process of eliminating spam and phishing emails from customers’ accounts is very common, and that’s done by every other ISP.”
If ACS customers are receiving spam or phishing emails, Blankenship said to delete them without responding. Some even take the guise of being sent from ACS. If they are asking for a response, particularly if seeking sensitive information, they are spam.
“Alaska Communications will never solicit personal information electronically,” she said.
As for customers struggling to send emails, Blankenship advises patience.
“It’s hard to put a timeline to it just because it’s kind of like an ongoing thing. But I can say that once we identify these problems we work very hard to eliminate those kinds of messages as quickly as possible, and so people should be able to see a noticeable difference soon,” she said.