Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet
By Mike Gould
In the middle of December 2001, everyone using Comcast got disturbing emails describing changes in their email addressing. As the support person for a number of these folks, I then started getting anguished pleas for help and understanding. Seems only fair that I should share with you the advice I'm giving them, so here's the deal:
Shaking All Over
Some history, first (if anything less than five years old can be said to have a history):
Once upon a time there was a company called MediaOne (MO) that provided RoadRunner, the first cable-based broadband service to Ann Arbor and other parts of the country. (Broadband is geek-speak for "really fast Internet access so you can download the large files that clog the Internet zippy-quick").
Due to corporate shake-ups, mergers, bankruptcies and such that are endemic to this era of communications, we are now dealing with a company called Comcast, which absorbed the dealings of MO in this area. MO provided front end service, in that it was the first entity between you and the Internet. Your computer plugged into their cable modem, which hooked you into their Big Room Filled With Quietly-Humming Boxes With Flashing Lights. From there, they supplied email address mailboxes and Web site space. Connectivity to the Internet, or the back-end service, was provided via a company called Excite@home.
Excite@home just filed for bankruptcy (went into "casters-up mode", in geek-speak), leaving Comcast scrambling to fill the gap by providing their own mailboxes and access. Because most people who subscribed to this service had mediaone .net addresses and MO is no longer in existence in this area, Comcast is in the process of switching everyone's mailboxes over to their own services
This means that your basic connectivity to the Internet is unaffected, just the way your email works (and probably your Web site, if you host it via RoadRunner). This only affects people who have been using MO for email. A lot of users, especially in the UM community, have been using MO only to connect to the Internet, retaining their usual mailboxes within the UM system. Others of us have our own domains with email elsewhere; this is how my system works. My email goes to firstname.lastname@example.org and I access it via the Comcast connection.
Return to Sender
In other words, if you receive your email addressed to email@example.com, this will be changing to firstname.lastname@example.org. According to Comcast, you must change over ASAP, as you will only be able to access your MO address until 12/31/01, and as that date is after this article goes to press, I hope you are reading this in time-travel mode. And yes, it would have been nice had they given you more warning. Presumably they will forward mail sent to your old address to your new one for a couple of weeks, but this isn't clear. Once the changeover is complete, any mail sent to your old address will bounce and your respondent will get their email to you returned with an "unknown user" message.
According to the notice I received 12/12/01, Comcast will be sending everyone a "transition kit" later in December to facilitate the switchover. They are also promising increased services, in the form of up to 7 email addresses, Web space and the ability to check your email via the WWW.
This last is the best thing about the new service; this means you can check your email anywhere in the world where you have access to the Web via whatever browser you are using. This is similar to the way HotMail works, as well as other Web-based services.
If you are currently using a different mailbox than Comcast to access your email, you will want to set up a forwarder so any messages sent to your unused Comcast box are forwarded to your regular box. This is necessary because Comcast will send messages from time to time to your Comcast box, even if you don't use it. With a forwarder, you are assured of getting these messages.
This can also work the other way around in that you can have your email forwarded to your Comcast account. You would want to do this if your usual email system doesn't provide Web-based email and you will be traveling, for instance. You can set up forwarding services by going to the Web site of the ISP handling your email and poking around in their customer services pages. Or call them.
Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman Comcast has such a number standing by: in their email they advise calling their "transition support specialists" at 1-888-339-1688 (their Web page says: 1-888-433-6963).
To verify all the above, I spoke to one of their technical support staff (available at 1-888-339-1688). He assured me that aside from the email change, all would be as before, connection-wise. This is reassuring to those of us who have installed home networks so that more than one computer can share the cable modem via a router. As this is a front-end issue, the back-end changes won't affect our setups. (You can read the article I wrote about this at http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.33.shtml).
As you will have to alert all your email respondents about your new address anyway, now might be a good time to consider getting your own domain for email. In other words, having an address of email@example.com is much more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org, and infinitely better than email@example.com. This involves additional expense, and should only be contemplated by those needing to use email professionally. If all you do is send emails to Gramma, your return address doesn't matter that much. If you do decide to get your own domain, there are lots of ISPs around who will be glad to help you for not very much money. This way you will enjoy using Comcast for connectivity, but someone else more under your control will be handling your email hosting.