ISP switch? Learn my secrets for holding on to your e-mail

One of the biggest problems in changing Internet service providers is getting your e-mail successfully moved from the old to the new. David Coursey offers some tips--including ISPs that will handle the details for free.

You started out happy. Everything was new and exciting. And you, perhaps, weren't terribly experienced. Certainly the relationship taught you a lot. And then it happened: Those little quirks that once seemed so charming have driven you away. Or was it a prettier face, a better offer, or just too much money?

Whatever the case, it's a done deal: You're going to find a new Internet service provider.

BUT AS NEIL SEDAKA WARNED, breaking up is hard to do. Besides the obvious--changing telephone numbers for your Internet connection or even installing a new broadband line--there is always the tie that binds: The ISP gave you your e-mail address and when the ISP goes, so does your mailbox.

Yes, that sucks. And while the "free" e-mail services have built a business on providing a "permanent" address in an ever-changing world, that isn't always the answer. Perhaps you want an address with some connotation of prestige. Maybe you now have a domain of your own. Or you just don't like having multiple mailboxes.

There are several ways to handle this:

  • See if your ISP will automatically forward your mail to your new address. Some will and others can't.
  • If this isn't possible, you can continue to check your old address and reply from your new address. All e-mail client software I can think of supports multiple accounts like this.
  • Either way, you need to send notices--perhaps several times--to your correspondents telling them your new address. Also remember to change the e-mail addresses associated with shopping and other password-protected sites.
  • Depending on whether your mail is "forwarded" or "redirected" from your old address, you may find you can't just hit "reply" to respond to messages from your old account. That's a hassle but not a huge one.

There is also another way--and this is an idea so obvious I wonder why nobody seems to have done this before--use a commercial e-mail rerouting service like Re-route to handle most of the details.

Re-route will go onto your old e-mail account, download the messages, and forward the messages to your new address, all automatically. But Re-route does something else: It also sends a change-of-address message to everyone who sends you mail. This might not be what you want if you are trying to get off a bunch of mailing lists, but otherwise it seems like a win.

AS WITH ALL THE OTHER OPTIONS, you have to keep your old account active while Re-route is doing its thing. The service also costs US$10 for the first month and US$25 for three months. That ought to be long enough to catch anyone who really needs to find you.

Re-route has deals with MSN, Telocity, and RCN, all of which offer a free month of Re-route's service to customers switching from other ISPs. With the recent AOL price hike, the ISP market is temporarily heating up--so now is the time to switch, if that's your plan, before the other services raise their prices to keep pace with AOL.


There are also two gimmicky free services in the address notification space: ActiveNames and Veripost. If the world becomes a perfect place and everyone registers with these services, then the services will be able to handle everyone's address changes.

But in our less-than-perfect world, it will be up to us--working alone or with help from our old ISP or Re-route--to do those things that just have to be done when an ISP relationship comes to an end.