AOL booted off chat network

America Online's 13 million members have been kicked off EFNet, the oldest and largest Internet relay chat network, due to operational disagreements between AOL and EFNet administrators.

EFNet's seven volunteer US administrators voted unanimously to 'delink' AOL from their network last week.

Internet relay chat (IRC) runs over its own set of servers on the Internet and allows users to send and receive real-time messages. EFNet regularly carries as many as 45,000 simultaneous connections. The cutoff does not affect AOL's Instant Messenger chat service.

EFNet officials charged AOL with failing to properly staff its EFNet connection. They believe AOL has IRC security problems and is unwilling to identify its IRC users, making it impossible to block troublemakers and spammers -- people who send unsolicited e-mail to lists of recipients -- from abusing chat sessions. "It's the arrogance of the AOL administrators that bothers us," said Reid Fishler, an EFNet co-administrator.

In a response posted to the American EFNet Routing e-mail list, AOL Operations Administrator, Eric Fichtner disputed few of the complaints, saying that since AOL's IRC servers are old, the company does not plan to spend time and money fixing them. "We're more than happy to build a system that's solid enough to be on autopilot, but that's where we're drawing the line," Fichtner wrote.

And in response to complaints that AOL does not control abusive IRC users, Fichtner added: "Life sucks. Buy a helmet."

However other AOL officials were quick to express interest in resolving the problem. "This impacts a small number of members, but we do want to see it remedied," said AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose.

AOL members' use of EFNet IRC varies between 500 and 1,100 simultaneous connections at any one time.

The problem of identifying AOL members on IRC is thorny because of AOL's strict privacy rules. But Fishler said EFNet doesn't need screen names -- just user IDs. He added that he didn't think that was possible because of legal constraints. "It's unlikely we'll be allowed to implement the technical fix," he said.

EFNet administrators gave no timetable for allowing AOL back into the network. In the past, they have cut off UUnet Technologies and Netcom On-Line Communication Services for similar reasons.