How do I keep my email address when I switch ISPs?

Changing your email address is hard and keeping your ISP-provided email is nearly impossible. I'll look at making this the last change that you'll ever need.

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I’m moving and my new home will have a new ISP. I’ve had my @att.net email address for years, but AT&T doesn’t serve my new location. My new ISP will be Comcast. How do I keep my @att.net email address? I really don’t want to have to change.

You’re probably going to have to change.

I’ll throw out one idea that might let you avoid it if your old ISP allows it, but a) most probably don’t and b) you’re not going to like it either.

Instead, I’ll describe what’s going on and what you should do to make this the first and last time that you need to change your email address.

Your Email: you@AnExampleIsp.com

The default situation that most people find themselves in when they sign up with an ISP is that they’re given an email address that consists of two parts:

If you leave your ISP, your email address with that ISP goes away.
  • Some kind of identifier that is unique to you at this ISP. This is the “leo” in something like “leo@AnExampleIsp.com”.
  • A domain that is owned and operated by that ISP. Typically, this is the ISP’s own domain. For example, the “AnExampleIsp.com” in “leo@AnExampleIsp.com”.

It’s that last one that is important here. If you’re with AT&T, it’s probably @att.net. With Verizon, it’s @verizon.net. With Comcast, it’s @comcast.net, and so on.

The key here is that your email address is tied to your ISP.

If you leave your ISP, your email address with that ISP goes away.

ISPs provide services for their (paying) customers

Email EnvelopeWhen you think about it, it kinda makes sense.

As a customer of an ISP, you’re paying them and, in return, they provide internet connectivity and the infrastructure to support, maintain, and deal with the email addresses associated with your account. They’re expending resources in the form of infrastructure, servers, maintenance, and support.

When you leave, you stop paying. Rather than recovering the cost of operations from your monthly payment, it would end up costing them if they were to keep supporting you in any way.

There’s just no incentive for them to do that. There’s no reason for them to maintain an email address – whether it’s the whole account or simply forwarding email that it receives – for someone who is no longer their customer.

One Solution

The one idea that I mentioned that you probably wouldn’t like is very simple:

Don’t leave.

I don’t mean don’t move; move wherever you like. Set up your new ISP and get your internet connectivity in whatever way you need to in your new home.

Just don’t leave your old ISP.

If they allow it, figure out the minimum payment plan that they might offer in order to keep your email account active. Make sure that they allow it to be accessed from your new location and you’re set.

As I mentioned, the down side is that not all ISPs will allow someone out of their service area to maintain an account and you may end up paying for two ISPs: your new one to get your connection to the internet and your old one to keep your old email account alive.

Ick.

Bite the bullet and change, but let’s do it in so you only need to change it once.

Option one: buy your own domain

This is really the only way to ensure that you never need to change your email address again.

Go to a domain registrar (I’m partial to SimpleURL and then find and purchase an available domain name. Yes, most of the “cool” names are taken, but there are still many options. Your last name might be available or perhaps a variation of your last name: in my case, perhaps something like TheNotenbooms.com would make for a great email domain name. This is a fine time to get creative, within reason. Remember, you’ll be telling all of your contacts to use this domain for your email from now on.

I’ll use YourVeryOwnDomainName.com as my example of your new domain and you@YourVeryOwnDomainName.com as an example of your email address.

When you register your domain name, you’ll typically be given the option of choosing email services to be provided along with it, perhaps at an extra cost:

  • Nothing. You’ll need to set up DNS and arrange for whatever email processing that you want to have happen elsewhere.
  • Forwarding. In this case, you define an email address (you@YourVeryOwnDomainName.com) and indicate that all of the email that is sent to it should be forwarded to another email address. You could have it sent to your new email address at your new ISP or you could have it forwarded to one of the free email services. It actually doesn’t matter that much; if you ever want to change your ISP or free email service, you simply come back to your domain registration and change the email address that you@YourVeryOwnDomainName.com is forwarded to; no one else has to know or care.
  • Hosting. This is typically an extra cost option; with email hosting, your registrar actually provides the email server and services that you would use to send and receive your email, much like your ISP has in the past. Of course, the difference is that it doesn’t matter who your ISP is. You access your email on your domain directly from the registrar’s servers.

Which approach is appropriate for you will vary based on your own needs and desires.

If I was forced to make a blanket recommendation, I’d say: get a Gmail account and use the second option to forward your you@YourVeryOwnDomainName.com email to your Gmail account. Configure Gmail to send as you@YourVeryOwnDomainName.com and then use Gmail as your email interface. If you ever need to change your Gmail account or change from Gmail to another provider, you’d simply change the email address that you@YourVeryOwnDomainName.com is being forwarded to.

Regardless of how you do it, you@YourVeryOwnDomainName.com is now your email address for as long as you choose to own the domain. It’ll be yours no matter what ISP you use or what email service you might choose to forward it to.

Option two: use an ISP-independent email service.

If changing ISPs is what causes your email address to change, then one obvious alternative is to choose an email service that’s not related to your ISP.

Like one of the free email services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or others.

And yes, that’s a fine approach with one huge “gotcha”.

What if you need to change that account?

What if your email account is hacked and cannot be recovered? What if the service becomes unreliable to the point you can’t use it? What if you get mistakenly booted? What if … who knows?

In all of those cases, you can certainly get a new email account, but that’ll just put you back to where you started: your email address will change when you get a new account.

Which is exactly what we’ve been trying to avoid all along.

Yes, with proper security, good behavior and the selection of a good email service (I’d choose Gmail in the free mail category), you can minimize the risks of ever having to change your email service.

But you can’t eliminate it.

My Recommendation

As you can probably tell by now, if changing your email address is a problem for you, I strongly recommend that you change it exactly once; change it to an email address on a domain that you own that can then be yours for as long as
you choose to own the domain.

Free email services are viable alternatives if you can do what you need to do to minimize the risk of ever needing to change again.

Once you have a domain name of your own, you can set up your own email addresses.

There are 19 comments:

  1. Ken B Reply

    It still amazes me how many times I see a business card or advertisement with a web address with their company name for the domain name, yet the contact e-mail address is yahoo.com, aol.com, or some other free service. They’ve taken the time to get their own domain name, yet they don’t use it for their e-mail address.

  2. Bob Reply

    It’s also quite possible that you have ties to a school, college, or university, that provides free lifetime email addresses to their alumni. Check with your alumni association.

  3. Bernard Cawley Reply

    So far we’ve taken the “don’t leave” approach. We’ve changed broadband providers twice since getting frustrated with Earthlink DSL (and then Clear) but maintain our Earthlink email addresses by maintaining dial-up service. Getting one’s own domain name sounds like a good long-term solution. Something to add to the “things to do” list.

  4. Jason Reply

    I recommend registering your own domain through Google and letting them “host” your email through Google Apps.
    http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/group/index.html
    With this solution, you can create up to 50 accounts on your domain, have access to Google Calendar, and Google Docs, among other Google applications, for shared access to these apps. They charge $10 to register your domain name for a year, and that’s the only cost associated with setting up the account.

  5. Bill F Reply

    I have been using Leo’s preferred solution (purchase a URL and forward it to Gmail) for quite a while and love it. I use my mail reader to get the mail as a POP account.

    You read your mail from your computer and it gets new ones as they come in. No need to use the web interface (always clunkier than a real mail reader) unless you are away from your regular computer.

    Gmail saves ALL your mail. When you need to go back to an email from a few years ago (that you deleted from your mail reader), you go to the web interface and use the search tools to find it.
    Gmail also has the best spam filter that I have ever seen. It uses your flagging or unflagging of messages to adjust the filter to your needs.

    It can help with your transition. Using Leo’s option 1, you keep your old address for a time determined by how frequently you get messages from important people.
    Send out the traditional note saying “I am changing my email to myname@myaccount.com/us/etc” to all the people you can think of that email you regularly.
    Set up a filter in your email reader or use Gmail’s filters to identify any messages that come in to your old address. You can then look at any messages that are flagged and determine if you want to send the particular sender a reminder.
    You can see the mail that is going to your old address and use that to know when you can quit paying for the old account.

  6. marinjim Reply

    I switched to Comcast from AT&T earlier this year and they sent me an email that they would keep my @ATT.com email active and they have. Don’t know if they would do the same with a @pacbell.net though. I’ve been a gmail user from day one because of this issue.

  7. C. Semple Reply

    After more than 10 years as an “earthlinker”, my email address was scattered all over the place and changing to a new address with my new ISP (Verizon FIOS) would be very difficult to communicate to some who I only corresponded with occasionally.

    For a small fee, Earthlink allows me to keep my elnk address and send email received at that address to my new Verizon address (which is not visible to correspondents.)
    C.S.
    If AT&T or other ISPs offer this service, It may be the easiest way to solve the problem.

  8. Ken Reply

    Long time ago I switched from MSN dailup to AT&T DSL. At the time I set up a free Yahoo.com account for my home page and E-mail. Recently I switched from AT&T DSL to Comcast DSL. I did not have to change anything, since Yahoo.com still is my home page and E-mail.

    One problem though the Yahoo homepage still says “AT&T.net powered by Yahoo!” at top of the page. I have not been able to get rid of this! As far as I can tell I am going through Comcast.net not ATT.net.

    I left AT&T DSL because of service problems and would like to put everything AT&T behind me. Is there anyway to get rid of the “AT&T.net powered by Yahoo!” on my Yahoo homepage?

  9. Chris Reply

    AT&T will allow you to keep your email account with them even if you change ISPs. After moving into a new house, my wife and I didn’t want slow AT&T DSL and decided to go cable. Maybe a week or two after the cancellation, I received an email indicating that I could keep my AT&T account for as long as I would like. I also believe AT&T allows individuals to sign up for free AT&T email accounts.

  10. Tony Kightley Reply

    I am a bit surprised at the complicated ways that have been described, above. I have, frequently, had several e-mail adresses and, also, have kept my e-mail address when changing ISPs.
    The method is very simple. In the e-mail account in Outlook or Outlook Express, the POP details need to be those of your preferred e-mail address(es), but the SMTP details need to be those of ISP which is providing your Internet service. (Normally, these details are, both, those of the service provider. But, as I have indicated, they do not need to be.)
    There is, however, one snag. The ISPs do pay a small annual fee to some central body for each address they host so, with the method described above, two fees are, theoretically, paid. So, the ISP not providing your Internet service, could become awkward and ask for a fee, or refuse to handle your mail. But, this is not very likely – it hasn’t happened to me, yet.

    My experience is just the opposite – the ISP you are leaving will almost always close down your email address when you leave unless you make special arrangements with them. If they’ll even do that.

    Leo
    24-May-2011

  11. Smiling Carcass Reply

    I am with Sky in the UK for my TV. ‘phone and ISP. They recently changed their email to gmail, though keeping the domain sky.com. We have been told that should we change ISP then we will be able to keep our Sky email addresses.

    however, I am and others should be aware they are perfectly at liberty to change this if, for example they move away from gmail- or even at a whim!

  12. Pam Reply

    I have Verizon Yahoo email & home page through (example) me@verizon.net) I am switching to Brighthouse. Is there any way I can keep my Verizon Yahoo email account using the verizon.net emailaddress? My main concern is keeping & using all the emails I have & not changing my email address. I really don’t want to get my own domain name. I mistakenly thought I could transfer my yahoo address, but then realized it was controlled by verizon.

  13. Gayle Reply

    Has anyone who has switched from att.net as his/her ISP to a new ISP ( such as Charter.net) found a way to keep receiving mail at the old/former att.net address without paying att.net? I presume maintaining minimal service on att.net – such as dial up service – is one way to continue receiving e-mail by paying. But is there another way without paying? If so, can you describe precisely how to accomplish this, i.e., what phone number or Customer Service Department at att.net one needs to contact? Another question: If I maintain the dial-up service in order to keep receiving virtually all my e-mail using the att.net address, will I only be able to receive my mail by dialing up, or will it arrive via my new super-fast cable-based (Charter.net) ISP?

  14. connie Reply

    @Gayle,
    You will be able to access your att.net email address using any internet connection. You will need the POP3 information for downloading it… or perhaps they have an online service for reading your mail.

    As far as a way to get it free… probably not going to happen. And when you think about it, that’s probably a good thing. In the end (even on the internet) you get what you pay for. If it’s free it won’t have any support, and it’s the free stuff that is riddled with spam.

  15. manfred schmidt Reply

    I have recentley switcched my internet provider to be comcast and noticed that at&t is still my e-mail provider , I want to keep my original e-mail address but want to have camcast to be my e-mail provider( had bad experience with at&t )

  16. connie Reply

    Sorry Manfred… but you probably can’t do it, unless you work out an agreement with AT&T to keep paying for an account so you can keep your email address. As mentioned in this article, any email provider runs emails off their servers, and you need some sort of an account to use their service.

  17. Barry Reply

    This is why I’ve switched all email to Google’s G-mail… ISPs come and go, live and learn!

  18. joe magnuson Reply

    Peoples Email addresses nowadays are as vitally important for contact as peoples home addresses or phone numbers. There is a law in place that if a person decides to get a new phone or even a new phone carrier then that new carrier has to got to the trouble of giving you your same phone number. Email addresses should be no different! You speak of their costs to do such, but those costs are not even a drop in a bucket compared to what I’ve been paying them for so many years.
    I think a federal injunction is needed so that a person may keep their email address no matter how many times they change providers, or how many times their providers go out of business

  19. Mark J Reply

    @Joe
    If you want to keep the same email address, there are a couple of options. The easiest, of course, is to use a provider like GMail, Yahoo or Hotmail. A better solution is to get you own domain. With your own domain, you can use the same email address regardless of which ISP or email provider you use. How do I keep my email address if I change providers?
    Having your own domain has a few advantages over using a free Email provider. One being that as long as you pay the small annual fee of around $10, you won’t lose your email address.

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