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Verizon Offers Refunds to Customers for Spam Filter Snafus

Verizon Communications Inc. is proposing refunds to Internet customers who found legitimate e-mail from friends and businesses blocked by the company's spam filters, according to a proposed class-action lawsuit settlement.

The company has refined its junk e-mail blockers since the suit was filed last year, both parties said.

Verizon had blocked e-mail altogether from certain overseas Internet service providers -- mostly from Europe and Asia -- and failed to properly handle complaints, said Philadelphia attorney Michael Boni.

He believes that Verizon servers could not handle an increase in e-mail volume -- and spam -- before the 2004 holiday season, so the company decided to block e-mail from certain geographic areas. Verizon spokeswoman Bobbi Henson, however, said the filters were not designed to target any such regions.

The plaintiffs in the case include a lawyer with British clients and people with relatives overseas.

"This is not a class of people who want their spam," Boni said. "At the same time, they're not paying for such an overbroad spam policy that they're not going to get their e-mails."

The proposed settlement, if approved by the Los Angeles judge overseeing the case, covers business and residential customers who had broadband or dial-up service from Oct. 1, 2004, to May 31, 2005.

Customers could potentially get awards of $3.50 per month, or up to $28, plus any cancellations fees charged for dropping their service over missing e-mail.

"Verizon's always had very peculiar spam filters," said John Levine, a co-author of "Fighting Spam for Dummies." "From what I can tell, Verizon did lean too far in the 'losing real mail' side. But they learned their lesson."

Verizon, which now has 5.1 million Internet customers, refined its system but continues trying to strike a balance between too much and too little filtering, Henson said. The company, she said, also wants to block e-mail that contains viruses or scams.

Boni's firm, Kohn, Swift & Graf, is also seeking $1.4 million in legal fees. The next court hearing is scheduled for June 20 in state Superior Court in Los Angeles.

Verizon has notified customers about the claim process. Information is also available at http://www.emailblockingsettlement.com.

The deadline for filing claims is Aug. 9. Customers who do not wish to accept the settlement terms must opt out by May 19.

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