E-mail Portability for Belgian ISPs Soon?


A new law is in the pipe in Belgium. Like snail mail or mobile numbers, the Federal authorities would like to implement the portability of e-mail addresses and homepages when the user changes of Internet Service Provider (for a period of six months). The goal of this law is to make the Internet market more open to competition. For those who are interested, information have been make publicly available by the IBPT (Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications). Feel free to have a look at the official text in French or Dutch. It looks like a good initiative. However, this project of law made me reflect on some points….

First the term “portability” is not the right one in this case. For mobile numbers, the operators exchange calls via the SS7 protocol as example. For e-mail addresses, it’s slightly different. All e-mails are delivered based on the MX (“Mail Exchange”) records defined for the domain. Example for rootshell.be:

$ dig rootshell.be mx
rootshell.be.           3600    IN      MX      20 mx1.nikita.cx.
rootshell.be.           3600    IN      MX      300 nice.try.mr.spammers.org.
rootshell.be.           3600    IN      MX      10 mail.rootshell.be.

The right term is in this case “forwarding”. The old ISP will forward all the received e-mails to the new address (hosted by the new one).

Today, lot of people use their Internet providers just for… the Internet access! They already subscribed to free services like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail (which often offer more features like extra storage capacity, better anti-spam, etc). Their blogs are hosted on Blogger.com

For a few years, buying a domain name does not require a big investment (Belgacom even made a big marketing campaign to receive a domain name for free!). No need to be a DNS master to manage your domain. Powerful web interfaces will take you by the hand. Dynamic DNS are also a nice alternative for blogs and homepages.

Ok, I must admit, not all users do this. The Average Joe fully relies on his Internet provider and the law could be helpful. But who will help him to update all the mailing lists, forums and web services he subscribed for maybe years? To avoid this situation, never put all your eggs in the same bag! Spread your presence across multiple online services. Example to manage your e-mail flow, use several addresses:

  • An official one (something like your@yourname.com) to exchange official e-mails (family, friends, job requests, official communication, etc). This one must be kept as private as possible
  • Another one to register on mailing lists, forums and other online services (Gmail is your best friend in this case)
  • A third one to give when future feedback is not important (example when you need to leave an e-mail address to download a file or a document). Use temporary e-mail address services like mailinator.com

What’s your opinion?


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