Non-techies on the Net


Email address charges branded ‘daylight robbery’

Wendy Small and her husband Geoff, has been charged £160 to keep her old BT email address since she switched providers two years ago Ofcom is writing to broadband companies to ask why some people are having to pay to keep old email addresses.

But they do not understand what email is.

This highlights to me once again that the Net has never been fit for mass consumption.

It is not based on consumer-friendly provisions like the phone system or broadcast TV.

Email addresses are not technically portable.

To some people, it became very obvious early on in the life of the Net, that using the free, convenience email address from your ISP is a bad idea. The same way that people are still learning that using a free email service from the world’s biggest advertising agency comes at a very high price.

I hope Ofcom do not become involved except maybe to educate.

An email address and a phone number are very different things.

A phone number is agnostic, it does not expose any hint of who currently provides that service, so making it possible to move your phone number between service providers was just a case of having the political will to enforce it.

An email address is made up of one part your unique identifier (the bit before the @) and one part the unique identifier of the service provider (the bit after the @).

This provider’s identifier is fundamental to the way the whole Internet works, it is called a domain name.

Each provider has a unique domain name and is unable to provide services under someone else’s domain name.

If someone wants to change their ISP but expect them to continue providing the server infrastructure to allow their old address to work, they cannot expect that for free. It just does not make any sense.

It would be like deciding to stop paying your TV license but still expecting to be able to watch the BBC.

Email has by far the poorest design of any of the legacy systems still available on the net. It has almost no security, it is easy to fake, cause havoc and is deeply vulnerable to those with criminal intent. It is not fit for purpose.

We need a replacement. First, it must be based on sound cryptographic principles. One difficulty will be designing an open protocol that meets the contradictory needs of it’s different kinds of users.