Small businesses are threatening legal action over continuing glitches with Xtra's email service and the Consumers' Institute says they may have a case.
Several people have contacted the Herald complaining that delays and non-deliveries of emails over thepast three weeks on the Xtra net-work are severely affecting their businesses.
Telecom says the problems have been caused by huge amounts of spam flooding the network but, as of yesterday afternoon, the network was running smoothly.
Although recent figures are not available, Telecom said in September it filtered a record 226 million spam items compared with 65 million for the same time last year.
The institute's David Russell said home users could claim compensation for email delays if they had suffered "a real measurable loss".
Non-commercial customers were covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act and services they paid for had to be of a "reasonable quality".
Although it might be more difficult for small business owners, they could also have a case, Mr Russell said. "If there has been a considerable amount of money, they could consider legal action or, if the amount was smaller, they could go through the disputes tribunal."
Telecom said it did not generally offer compensation for email delays but in "exceptional circumstances" would consider it.
But Richard Beachman, who runs a customs clearance company from his Auckland home, said his continuing email problems could cost him his business. He has faxed a letter of complaint to Telecom chief executive Theresa Gattung and is threatening legal action if there are no improvements.
"I would describe it as a crock of crap," Mr Beachman said.
He said email transactions between himself and customs were "normally instantaneous" but emails he had sent this week had not received a response despite customs' assurances it had replied to them. The hold-ups meant three containers of goods were sitting at Princes Wharf in Auckland awaiting delivery.
Kirsty Hughes, a Whangarei communications consultant, said that during the past three weeks she had had to phone clients to see if they had received her emails after realising many were getting them days late.
"I have about 3000 people on my database who I'm emailing on behalf of companies and about a third of them are at Xtra, so a good percentage of those are not receiving the emails on time."
Ms Hughes said she phoned Xtra to resolve the matter but was told to use a free email service such as Hotmail.
Telecom general manager of consumer marketing Kevin Bowler said the company was spending tens of millions of dollars on anti-spam measures.
Ihug has also invested a "significant amount" on spam-filtering after its email network was crippled in late October.
At TelstraClear, a three-level system to fight spam is proving effective but spokesman Martin Bollard said the battle against spam was continual.
"It's almost like a cold war."
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Helpdesk services also causing anguish
Email delays are not the only problem causing Xtra customers grief.
Rotorua resident Richard Nairn endured two hours and 26 minutes on the phone with a query to the company's dial-up helpdesk.
His ordeal began on Thursday, when he said he was put on hold for 51 minutes before his call was answered by someone in the Philippines. "The guy I was speaking with had a strong accent and we had difficulty understanding each other," Mr Nairn said.
Xtra moved its dial-up helpdesk to Manila in August to focus New Zealand call-centre operations on broadband.
Yesterday, Mr Nairn spent another 37 minutes waiting for a call to be answered, and says the query was resolved after 2h 26m on the phone.
Telecom spokesman Nick Brown said the complaint had been passed to helpdesk management as it sounded "unusual and not what we aim to deliver customers".
Mr Nairn said he was offered three months' free connection, but the company withdrew the offer when it learned he had talked to the media.
* additional reporting by Juliet Rowan