BT Milking Customers for Keeping an Email Account

BBC Money Box reports:

Ofcom also found most people who use an address provided by their broadband company are former BT customers. BT says if customers want to switch provider but keep hold of their old BT email address they’re charged £7.50 per month to be able to access and use their account like they used to, including accessing it using an app.

Reading beyond the BBC headline, it turns out that BT are in fact allowing former customers to access their old email account for free, but this only works using a web browser, presumably this is because it’s funded by advertisements – I can’t see any other reason for this limitation. It is only for continued access via POP/IMAP that BT demand payment for.

Even so, £7.50 a month seems extortionate considering you can get a full Microsoft Exchange account for ~£4.50 a month including VAT.

This kind of exploitative pricing is in poor taste, especially considering that in many cases – the type of customer who still uses their ISP for email is most likely still running Outlook Express – as it was configured in 2007 – and so any change will be more confusing and disorientating than it would for someone who knows how to setup a Gmail account and configure email forwarding (BT do offer forwarding, but I’ve no idea if this is covered by the free option).

We solved this problem with mobile operators by having rules that mean that as a consumer, you have the right to take your phone number with you when you switch to another operator. Email is unfortunately not regulated in the same way, and in fact its architecture makes it impossible for an email address with the domain “btinternet.com” to be be routed to a server owned by another ISP. Instead, I’d like to see the option to forward emails for free to another email address for a set period of time (say 2 years). If major ISPs and popular webmail providers could somehow automate this process, even better.

Though email is arguably less relevant today than it was 15 years ago, I would still strongly advocate buying your own domain name (around £15 a year) and then setting it up either to forward to a free email account, or even better, paying for proper email with the domain (around £2/month with FastHosts). For those who fancy a technical challenge, for around £4/month you can setup a lightweight Debian VM on somewhere like Linode and run your own mail server – this gives you the benefit of being able to setup unlimited email addressed with your domain – though it’s not for the fainthearted.

Either way, £7.50 is a ripoff.