Using a complimentary “free” email address given to you by a broadband internet supplier spells trouble. Whether this is used personally or professionally, you’ll kick yourself.
Two of the largest broadband providers are charging people up to £90 a year to keep their email address if they switch to another supplier.
Ofcom, as the UK regulator for telecoms providers in the UK, wrote to the firms in 2020 to express concerns, explicitly stating they would take further action in what they saw as unfair practices.
The four big providers – BT, TalkTalk, Sky, Virgin Media – have snared 90% of the market, but each have different rules for departing customers wanting to keep the email address that was provided when they signed up.
Now, you’d think I’m all sympathetic to the poor consumer, but I will shortly switch my tone and begin a little bit of finger wagging.
While Virgin Media don’t even allow former customers to keep old email addresses (it’s deleted after 90 days), Sky do, and it’s free, forever (only if you use it regularly, otherwise it’s assumed to be inactive).
BT allows ex-customers to keep a “basic” email address free but TalkTalk charge £5 monthly.
Apparently, this has been described by complainants as “daylight robbery”, with the additional gripe “it doesn’t incentivise people to switch provider”. At this point, I think some of these complainants need to undergo that ice bucket challenge thing everyone was doing a few years ago.
The way it was discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box would make anyone think an appalling conspiracy had been unveiled, and one which crescendoed with a vicious shafting of the collective consumer backside.
Frankly, this entire issue is one of common sense and personal responsibility.
Use a Genuinely Free Webmail Email Address
The real problem is that a huge chunk of the population has spent years idly using email addresses that don’t belong to them, creating a situation easily avoided.
An email address supplied by an ISP such as firstname.lastname@example.org, shouldn’t be used at all, ever, and yet they’re used for all sorts of stuff in a person’s daily life.
One bloke phoned Money Box to bemoan having forfeited his ISP-supplied email address after switching to a different broadband provider.
He faced the frustrating (but entirely predictable) task of having to change the email address associated with his bank, gas, electricity, home insurance, car insurance, window cleaner, milkman and whatever the hell else we’re all expected to have an online account for.
The lesson is this: forget the ISP email account and instead sign up a for a free web-based email account.
You can use Microsoft or Gmail or Yahoo. Others are available. Naturally you’re expected to tolerate irritating contextual adverts and the ad network probably spies on you, but what do you expect for free?
Whether you’re in business or not, always think of the downside risk.
Don’t Build Your Business Around ANY “Free” Email Address
If you’re using an email address with which to do business, avoid the free ones entirely.
People plaster BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media email addresses all over their work vehicles, business cards, uniforms and everything else.
The question is, why on earth would you want to use email@example.com as a marketing come-on? It’s amateurish.
Also, assuming you did get a free Gmail/Microsoft/whatever account, don’t go publicly advertising that as your business contact address either.
What you want is a “top level domain” business email address to take the professional image up several notches. And they’re not all that expensive.
Getting a Business Domain Email Address Inbox
Assuming your website URL is www.example.co.uk, you are advised to purchase an email inbox to go with it, so you have something like firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dreamhost shared web hosting offers unlimited email inboxes when you purchase one of their shared web hosting accounts, which, by the way, are excellent value. I know because I’m a raving customer who never shuts up about them.
GoDaddy and 123-Reg, to name just two, are expensive by comparison. I’m a GoDaddy customer too and I use their Microsoft Essentials tier (I don’t love it, but since many of my clients use GoDaddy, I need to be up to date and familiar with the entire hosting service).
Or Use a Free Business Domain Email Address Forwarder
Assuming you’re not prepared to pay for a professional inbox, setting up a “forwarder” is an option.
A forwarder means anyone who emails email@example.com will instead have their message sent on to one or more addresses of your choosing. You could use firstname.lastname@example.org as the destination where you can receive and reply to emails.
Summary: ISP Emails are Not Worth the Hassle
Ofcom said all the UK’s biggest broadband providers committed to the Fairness for Customers policy in June 2019 to ensure consumers do not face additional hassle or barriers that may prevent them from switching broadband internet supplier.
The practice of charging for email addresses initially given to customers definitely does not fit in with that policy.
Although Ofcom went as far as to say they need to consider “whether we need to step in and take action.”
Regulation or bans of charges may make people feel better but it’s easier to just assume large corporations are self-interested bastards who never give up on trying to get something out of us.
If you’re in the process of shutting down an ISP email address, you might only need to pay for it for as long as it takes to tie up loose ends. Get rid of it or don’t use it at all.