One of the worst situations I know of is having your e-mail provided by your Internet provider. If your e-mail address ends in “@” followed by your Internet provider's corporate name, your e-mail is being held hostage.
A case in point is going on in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont right now. Many of my friends in those states have been using Verizon as their Internet provider, and most of them had e-mail addresses ending in "@verizon.net." Verizon recently sold off the company's DSL and phone networks in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont to Fairpoint Communications in a deal worth $2.72 billion. The deal involved 1.6 million local access lines in the three states. Once the sale was completed, the problems began.
The first problem was that all the customers were given short notice that their e-mail addresses were being converted to addresses ending in "@myfairpoint.net." Next, all the customers had to reconfigure their e-mail programs. Sadly, these customers were not given much time to notify their email correspondents. Most only had a few days in which to notify friends and relatives and to change their e-mail addresses on e-mail lists and thousands of web sites. One of my friends who runs an active eBay business suddenly found that the hundreds of listings he had on eBay now pointed to a non-existent e-mail address. He changed the listings on eBay to his new myfairpoint.net address, only to find out that it didn't work. He lost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, and his eBay reputation was ruined.
Next, the myfairpoint.net mail servers didn't work very well. I only have second-hand information about the problems, so I can only refer you to the thousands of messages posted on various online message boards. Apparently, Fairpoint was not prepared for the sudden growth in the number of customers. The online message boards are full of reports about mail server crashes, lost messages, and more.
Many people report that they can send mail but not receive it or vice versa. One of my friends reports that he can see the message headers in his in-box, but when he clicks on any of the message headers, he receives an error message of "unable to retrieve" or something similar. He says it is frustrating being teased like that: he can see the headers of new messages but cannot read the messages.
Worst of all, messages being sent to the old Verizon addresses are not being forwarded to the new Fairpoint addresses. If they placed a message on a web site last year looking for relatives and provided their Verizon e-mail address, they will never receive any messages sent to them in the future.
Sadly, these latest reports are only the latest examples of such problems. In fact, Fairpoint and Verizon are only two companies that have created such problems. In the business climate of the last few years, many Internet providers have sold out or been forcibly acquired, resulting in customers scrambling to maintain e-mail capabilities.
Users sometimes create further problems on their own. For instance, those who move. When moving to a new area, there is a high probability that you will have to switch Internet providers. It's a darned shame if you also have to change e-mail addresses. In fact, the problem could have been prevented very easily.
Another, similar, situation is using an e-mail address provided by an employer. What happens if you resign, get laid off, or if the employer is bought out by another company? In today's business climate, millions of people have their e-mail addresses forcibly changed every year.
I went through this last year: I voluntarily switched from Charter Communications cable television and Internet service to Verizon FIOS fiber optic as my Internet provider. I did so in order to obtain faster Internet service. However, I never changed my e-mail address. It remains the same as it has for the past five years or so. For me, the change in Internet providers was a non-issue.
The solution is simple: never, ever use an e-mail address provided by your Internet provider. Get a separate, independent address that can be used from any Internet provider.
For most people, that means obtaining a FREE Gmail (Google Mail), Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, or similar service. Most of these services work better than the mail servers of most Internet service providers, plus they have the advantage of working from anywhere. If your Internet provider suddenly gets acquired or if you move to a new area or if you are simply on vacation for a few days in some sunny climate, you can always use the same e-mail address.
My favorite is Gmail, provided by Google. The power, flexibility, and ease of use of this e-mail service always amazes me. Gmail even offers advanced e-mail capabilities at no charge, such as IMAP and POP3 access, services that are not available on Hotmail or Yahoo's free e-mail service. With IMAP or POP3, the user never even sees advertisements. However, any user with a web browser will see ads in all three popular services.
To be sure, there is never any guarantee that Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and the others will remain in business under the same banners, the same corporate names, and the same e-mail addresses. There is always a risk that even they will force their customers to change someday. However, the experience of the past five years shows that most of the turmoil has been in the arena of Internet service providers. So far, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail customers have seen no forced changes. The odds are that they will remain stable while the Internet service providers will remain in turmoil.
I'd suggest that you start planning NOW. Do not wait until one day your Internet service provider gives you seven days' notice or less. Obtain a free e-mail address someplace else right now. Then you can slowly migrate your e-mail over at your leisure. You might start by writing all your e-mail messages in your new address right now, but you can continue to monitor your old e-mail address for incoming messages for another year or two or three. As a matter of fact, Gmail has a Settings tool that lets you specify other email addresses you own – such as your “old” Internet provider's – so that those messages arrive in your Gmail inbox as well. This works with any old e-mail address that supports POP3 mail protocol. (AOL will not work as that company does not follow industry standards.) You also have the option of sending replies with either your old email address or your new Gmail address, all from the same Gmail account. In short, you can easily migrate all your correspondence to the independent mail system over a period of months or even years. I would suggest that such a plan is far better than waiting until you receive seven days' notice from your Internet service provider!
If you have an e-mail address ending in verizon.net, comcast.net, BellSouth.com, AOL.com, or any other Internet provider's "captive" e-mail addresses, the time to start planning is NOW.
In fact, you can sign up at all three: Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail. And there are still others: Apple provides .mac addresses (to become .me addresses) for a fee, and there are many others as well. I use a commercial service that provides an e-mail address based on my name: email@example.com. Even though I use a commercial e-mail provider and am happy with it, I also have a Gmail account that I use as a second account for situations where I do not want to use my primary address. I'd suggest that everyone should have at least two e-mail addresses. After all, they are free.
Experiment for a bit to see which service you like best, then settle on that one and start notifying all your friends and relatives.
Of course, you should continue to monitor your old e-mail address for another year or two so as to receive messages from those who have not yet received the word of your change in e-mail addresses.
I like the idea of adding a "SIG file" that automatically appends a “signature” line or two of text on the bottom of every e-mail message you send: "Please notice that my e-mail address has changed recently. Please send all future e-mail messages to..."
Why be held hostage by your Internet provider? It's YOUR e-mail! You have a right to receive e-mail messages and to not be "jerked around" by corporate buy-outs. I'd suggest that you take control of your e-mail now. Obtain your own e-mail address today, and start migrating your mail.
Finally, if you are immersed in the Verizon/Fairpoint problems right now, why fight it? Pick up a Gmail account now and switch to that. You already have to notify all your correspondents anyway; why not get an e-mail address that works and won't change for a while?