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Email or blackmail?

10 June 2016

I’ve used the same e-mail account for nearly 20 years (it was provided  by my ISP, and advertises their name as well as mine). Not just for e-mail: but as a pass, user or account name on perhaps 150 different resources, from bank accounts to utilities of every kind. It would be practically impossible to list them. And the task of changing them all would require perhaps a week’s work. But not changing say half of them would multiply the permutations I have to try when I can’t get into an account and have to try various passwords. Continuing the address is a practical necessity.

So when after two years of poor service on my broadband connection (which five BT Openreach engineers have failed to rectify), the idea of switching to a fibre optic service seemed attractive. (I didn’t at that stage realise that the optical fibres don’t actually come into your home: they get to the box at the end of the street, and use the same 100 yards of copper wires whose rotten insulation is the reason my broadband drops when it rains.) But if you switch ISP, there is no obligation on the original firm to forward your e-mails. And no one else can take over that hosting role without their agreement. So a service that is normally offered for free, and is available retail for £1 per month for other e-mail addresses, is priced at their whim (in this case £6 per month, but with nothing to stop them doubling this whenever they choose).

There is no longer an OFT to complain to. The fix is simple: force ISPs to offer indefinite free forwarding of emails to any departing customer – otherwise they aren’t free to leave. The Competition & Markets Authority weren’t terribly interested,  and I’m not expecting Ofcom to take it up either. (I completed their online complaint form, but at the final stage their anti-robot software decided I couldn’t tell the difference between a milkshake and some other unspeakable foodstuff, and then reverted to rivers which seemed to me indistinguishable from canals….)

Meanwhile my wife and I decided to rev up our backup Gmail and MSN mail. They worked easily enough on webmail, but the interface with Outlook (why is software called a client?) proved problematic. That’s an understatement. After four hours repeatedly keying in the correct POP3 and SMTP servers, ports and security settings for Gmail, I gave up and called in a consultant. He couldn’t do it either. Then I discovered that as part of a recent security upgrade, you now have to permit access to POP3 via a different route. So when my wife found she could no longer access MSN mail, I assumed the same had happened, but could find no route for doing so. Nor could an IT consultant, who like the first tier tech support at MSN advised me there was no such requirement. Finally after three hours on the phone to Microsoft, I was finally escalated to the professional support team after I had paid a fee of £65, who promptly reset the account to permit POP3 access.

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