My ISP Went Under; How Do I Recover My Email and Email Address?

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It looks like my ISP suddenly went out of business. As a result, my email address no longer works, and I can’t get to all the email that was accessible using the ISP’s web access. What can I do? 

Fortunately, your scenario isn’t all that common, but unfortunately, what you’re experiencing is. It happens any time someone changes their ISP or loses access to their free email account.

Thus, it’s an excellent opportunity to review some very important points I’ve mentioned before.

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Gone is gone

First, let me address your question directly: if your ISP has truly disappeared and left you no way to contact them at all, then to the best of my knowledge, there’s no way to retrieve any information from them. Further, there’s no way to use or redirect the email address you had with them.

It’s all gone.

The best you can hope for is that some other ISP might swoop in to save the day, take over your old ISP’s assets, and make them available again.

It’s certainly not anything that I would count on.

All I can recommend is that you start over, from scratch, at a new ISP, and take the steps I’ll outline below to protect yourself in the future.

Lost is lost

ClosedThankfully, ISPs infrequently go out of business. More often, they’re simply purchased by another ISP, and either things just continue to work, or you’re given plenty of advanced notice if some change is about to impact you.

It’s important to realize that this same scenario plays out when you leave your ISP for any reason, and when you leave (or lose access to) your free email provider.

  • Your email address with those services is no longer yours.
  • Any email you had stored on those services is no longer accessible to you.

Naturally, if you’re moving, and switching ISPs as a result, you can plan ahead a little, taking steps to move to a new email address and provider. But if the switch is sudden, such as when you lose access to your account or switch ISPs with little notice, there’s no planning at all.

There’s just loss.

Protecting yourself

1. Select a good service or provider.

I admit, this can be difficult. When it comes to ISPs, many areas have little or no competition, and as a result, little or no choice. If you want internet, you have one and only one provider to deal with. Other areas have more options, including a choice between wireless, cable, or DSL connectivity.

Particularly with DSL, regulation in the US allows smaller ISPs (as well as the telephone company itself) to provide service over your telephone line. For many years, we had a great relationship with a local western-Washington ISP.1  The problem, of course, is that the smaller ISPs are perhaps the riskiest. The chances of your telephone company going away any time soon are pretty small. Unfortunately, there’s a cost there as well … I stopped using my telephone company as my ISP because their customer service was absolutely abysmal, whereas the smaller ISP was wonderful.

If you have a choice, you need to factor in the offerings – most typically around broadband speed – offered by the various alternative providers, as well as their customer support, cost, reliability, and reputation. Ask around and see who people in the area use and how satisfied they are.

2. Back up your email

You knew I’d have to talk about backing up, right?

Webmail is very convenient, but it places all of your eggs in one basket. It’s all stored on the provider’s servers, and only on the provider’s servers. If the provider goes away, or if you lose access to the account, you’re in big trouble.

I use webmail almost exclusively these days, via Gmail. However, I take care to back up my email by also having a copy of Thunderbird installed and configured to download email while still leaving it on Google’s servers. I run it once a week or so. Should anything ever happen to my Gmail account, I’ll still have all my email up to the last time I ran Thunderbird.

That’s my recommendation. Use an email program that you run on your own PC to periodically download your email, and then back that up when you back up your computer. It doesn’t have to be Thunderbird; there are many alternative email programs that would do the job. You can continue to use webmail, but if the service suddenly disappears, at least you have your backups.

Important: note that this approach does not back up the address book kept in your online mail account. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a good, general purpose automated backup solution for online address books or contacts lists. My solution is to export the contacts to a downloaded file once a month.

3. Consider getting your own domain name

If your ISP goes under, you’ve lost not only your mail, but your email address. For example, if your email address is something@randomisp.com, and this “random isp” goes under, then email sent to anything at “randomisp.com” is lost and gone forever. People trying to reach you through that address may get bounces, or nothing at all.

Once the ISP that owns the domain goes away, there’s no automated way to get email sent to that address forwarded to another. If you leave an ISP on good terms, you can sometimes get them to forward your email or continue to provide you with email services. This is typically not free – it amounts to keeping your account open with an ISP you no longer use.

Registering and owning your own domain frees you from any ties to a specific ISP. For example, let’s say I own the domain “askleo.com”2. Using only the domain registrar, I can make any email address on that domain. I might make one called “leo” at askleo.com, which I tell everyone to use. Then I have the domain registrar automatically forward email sent to that address to my “real” email account with my ISP, or even a free email service. People can continue to email me at that askleo.com address, regardless of whether my ISP goes under, or whether I lose the free email account it points to. If there’s a problem, I simply change where the askleo.com email address is forwarded, and no one’s the wiser.

3(b) Use a free email account

If you’re not up to purchasing and setting up your own domain name, selecting a good free email service might be the right solution for you.

I’ve had mixed feelings for many years about whether or not free email services are “worth it“. When you think about it, by using an email address provided by one of the services – say an @outlook.com, @gmail.com, or @yahoo.com email address – you’re placing an awful lot of trust in that service to always be there when you need it. If not, then your email address is gone, as we’ve been discussing.

By choosing an appropriate provider (I’d choose Google’s Gmail), securing your account properly, and backing it up regularly, it is possible to use a free email account with some level of confidence.

The upside is simple: you can change ISPs all you want, but your email and your email address remain the same.

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Footnotes & references

1: We left only when our needs exceeded the ability of the telephone company’s DSL capacity.

2: Which I do. Smile

14 comments on “My ISP Went Under; How Do I Recover My Email and Email Address?”

  1. I always save my emails on my hard drive as HTML files. I use Thunderbird. I right-click on any email I want to save and chose the option to ‘save as’ then ‘HTML’.

    Then I copy them to a CDRW with all my other saved documents. Then when the CDRW is full I copy them all to my hard drive and burn them of on a CDR (I make two copies just in case), then I format the CDRW and start all over again.

    I also do this with programs and games that I download of the internet and wish to save. I have a CDRW each for ‘Documents’, ‘Games’, and ‘Programs’.

    • What is even easier is using a thumb drive, or “USB”….they go all the way up to 164GB. I quit using cd’s myself. You don’t have to burn anything anymore, the USB “drive” take documents, music, videos, etc. And what’s even cooler? You can just drag whatever over to your USB “drive”. Simple.

  2. An acquaintance had the same issue. But his domain was hosted by the ISP that went under. When will that domain name be available again? Never?

    Yes, the domain name might be available again, but grabbing it can be VERY difficult. You can find out when the domain name expires by using any Whois search such as the one at who.is.

    Domain names are typically available 30-90 days after they expire. You will need electronic assistance in grabbing the domain name, because you could very well be competing with many other people who also want to re-register it. Godaddy has a good service that will electronically watch for the exact second the name is available, and try to grab it for you.

    Leo
    24-Mar-2011

    • I’d have to say “it depends”. Kaj says the domain was “hosted by the ISP”, not “owned by the ISP”. My domain is hosted by a hosting company, but *I* own the domain name. Should the hosting company disappear, I can get hosting elsewhere, log into my registrar account, and point the DNS to the new host. (Same holds true should I decide to switch to a new hosting company.)

  3. “The upside is simple: you can change ISPs all you want, but your email and your email address remain the same.”

    I think once you change ISP’s its rare that you will be lucky enough to get the same email address. The other downside is you have to let everyone on your contacts list of your new email address. So if you address was {removed}@hotmail.com you might only get {removed}@gmail.com. Since {removed}@gmail.com has already been taken

    • The email address provided by your ISP will change. That’s the point. But the email you have with a free service like Gmail or Outlook.com can travel with you wherever you are.

    • I removed those names even though they were fictitious, because someone might actually have those addresses and open them up to spammers. Although with that email address, they probably are already inundated with spam 😉

  4. I am surprised you did not mention, as a back-up solution, MailStore Home (free), which I have used successfully on my 32-bit computer — although on my 64-bit machine it “seized up” for some reason, and refused to back up (archive) any more emails. Mind you, I do have over 20 thousand — going back to the year AD 2000 !

    Anyway, when this works, it has a much more useful search function than does Hotmail/Outlook.

    I find it very useful — although I agree Thunderbird should be a good alternative. However, they are not exactly the same kettle of fish. If I could have got Thunderbird to work the first and only time I tried it, I imagine I would be using that to check my emails now. Since Microsoft, in an obvious attempt to get people to reduce the size of their inboxes (and thus MS’s storage), now have a slider that doesn’t just go down to the end of the on-screen page — oh no! Move it just one centimetre — and you have passed about four WEEKS of emails. That now makes Hotmail very much less convenient….

  5. Most of the big free e-mail providers allow for automatic forwarding. You can easily back up everything that comes into your main account by setting up automatic forwarding of all incoming messages to another E-mail account at another provider.

  6. One issue which doesn’t help is when the ISP hosts your domain name. A number of ISP’s register top-level domains, like .com and .net, through large companies like Enom or Tucows which means that getting your domain back could be difficult…. It depends on the type of domain you have registered.

    I don’t know if there are any South African subscribers here, but if there are then I can confirm that if you need to regain control of any .za domain (e.g.: .co.za or .org.za), then you can approach the ZA Central Registry and speak to their support department.

    (Leo: I don’t know if you allow links)

    Their contact details are available here: https://www.registry.net.za/contact.php

  7. You mentioned getting your own domain name, which sounds wonderful — but you didn’t address the monetary cost, either initial or ongoing. (Or the “cost” in effort and learning, either, for that matter.) Care to enlighten us? Thanks…

    • Domain names are quite cheap. Anywhere from $12 a year to $30… depending on where you register. You don’t have to learn much because your service provider will take care of most everything for you. For instance, if you choose to go through Godaddy, or Bluehost, or any good host, there will be a simple interface to work with, and any good host will have phone support was well. Once you have it all set up you only need to make sure that your credit card does not expire. A very small cost, both ways, to have a secure email address.

  8. Rignt now the bad e-mail service we’ve had for years since Verizon Baby Bell ate and then became its parent, AT&T or American Telephone & Telegraph, including the corporate names, stock symbol and the white and blue spinning logo could be blamed on the fact AT&T (intially at least the non-wireless or non-cellular portion of “VERIZON” since VERIZON Wireless was spun off as a separate entity as part of the terms and conditions of US federal government approval for eating one’s own parent: out of somewhere in all the sturm and drang the “new” AT&T has to foster its email business off onto Yahoo servers. Now apparently the new AT&T has placed its email business with prodigy.net.
    I cannot send email, nor receive email and somehow even my gmail, my third party email client (like an updated formerly OUTLOOK EXPRESS kissin’ cousin, everything and anything, even email from my smartphone, Apple iPhone restricted to cellular (no wifi, no wireless through my cable modem) cannot communicate with friends who have similar only cellular network based Samsung Galaxy’s, etc. each piece of email somehow generates an error message from att.com or prodigy.net that the address, or the recipient/addressee is unknown. And half of the time even when an error message (email rejected or email bounced back is produced and received (my short “Happy Easter!” is a good example – I thought early this morning, from the Error/Rejected/Unknown messages sent to my inbox that not a single person had received my Happy Easter note, not a single one. Then I heard from people calling me to say they got my note, amd was I okay and what happened because when they tried to reply to it, their reply e-mail was rejected because my email address was unknown, etc.
    For the past 6-8 weeks there has been no regular, dependable AT&T email. Nothing in and nothing out. So for 1008-1344 hours tech support has uttered, as if it were a mantra, AT&T expects to have this little, minor email matter resolved in 48-72 hours and they have religiously repeated those words for, as I said about the last 6-8 weeks. There is also no “discussion” on the technical aspects: AT&T Tech Support and Customer Service people, I am guessing, have been told to respond aggressively with overwhelming force, as I was told
    1. Email is a free option offered as a courtesy to AT&T ISP customers
    2. As it is free I cannot ask for a refund, or demand something be done, “by yesterday, by yesterday, if not sooner” as a free option email is a non-monetized resource. Simple business understanding means monetized resources carry a high priority, by definition, and that personnel and non-personnel resources spent to “fix or resolve” AT&T email issues is actually money lost corporation.
    3. Unlike the regulatory and legal status of “snail mail”, couriers, messengers, and to some extent faxes, email in the United States has no such stable basis. While email may increasingly be generated and acted up in more and more businesses each year in whatever way you care to measure, it has no legal or regulatory cache – so it will get fixed when it gets fixed!

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