The action taken by BT last week demonstrates their complete antipathy towards customers. The ‘anti-spam’ move has meant thousands of customers who use POP3/SMTP to send email through BT, instead receive an 0x800CCC78 error. It perfectly qualifies them to be the next entry in my occasional series on organisations that show contempt for their customers…
Sometime last week, probably on Thursday or Friday, without any warning, BT Broadband decided to change its policy with regard to the sending of POP3 or SMTP emails via the BT ISP servers. The result was that anyone using this approach received an 0x800CCC78, otherwise referred to as a 553, error when they tried to send email messages. They were still able to receive messages and their access to the internet was unaffected.
So who uses POP3/SMTP email? Well, over the years the number has grown phenomenally. Essentially, anyone who uses a transportable, personal or organisation-specific email address is probably using this approach. If you have your own domain name (my own is @grahamwilson.org, for example), if you use a free email and webhosting facility for a charity or sports club (a popular one is @freeuk.com), or you access work email from home, then you are one of these people. There are hundreds of thousands of us. You may not even realise it, but if you use Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express or any other ’email client’ then they use this approach.
The downside is that POP3 is vulnerable to hijacking by the Spam fraternity. Though most ISPs have effective tools for screening much of this out. The upside to users is that these email addresses can be given out to anyone, used in advertising literature and so on, and don’t need to be changed when you change your Broadband provider or the club changes its secretary etc. With the massive expansion of people working from home they are, of course, essential to the smooth running of many businesses.
As far as BT is concerned, of course, they are also a threat! A transportable email address is one less incentive to remain with any particular ISP. So, it is in BTs interest to make sure its customers don’t use them, but instead use the ridiculously meaningless email address that was created for them when they opened their account with BT (typically something like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Then, if people decide to leave BT, for whatever reason, though price and offshore call centres apparently are the commonest ones, they have to let all their friends, family, registered websites, banks etc know of the change – a major upheaval, which something like Plaxo (www.plaxo.com) can ease but is still a nightmare to achieve.
So, BT initiated a new step that everyone wishing to use one of these email addresses has to go through. Basically, you have to log on to your “BT Yahoo!” account (if you didn’t realise you had one, join the club), then complete a tedious process to register each additional email address, be sent an email to it, copy a ‘verification code’ from this incoming email to a special page on the BT system and then you can send emails this way. For more details have a look at the blog by Phil Gyford (http://www.gyford.com/phil/writing/2008/03/22/beware_of_the_le.php).
Incidentally, did you know that BT has a complete infrastructure to handle disenfranchised customers? Apparently known as the “revenue protection” team, they are the people you get forwarded to if you call to request a MAC code to allow another ISP to take over your Broadband connection. A common reason for people to demand this code is that they have got thoroughly fed-up with the BT “offshore” (in other words, Indian) call centres. A technical problem persists with their BT access and they decide to go to another ISP to get better service. Personally, I am off tomorrow! It is only two months before the end of my contract term, and although I suspect I could pursue a court case for their breach of contract, it simply isn’t worth the effort, and for the £35 or so remaining I’d rather accept the loss and go somewhere better. Of course, you’re left with a decision as to which is the least worst of these alternative providers. In my case I’m going to give Fast a try.