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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Thursday, January 16, 2003

BobF at 5:08 PM [url]:

AT&T Broadband users see 3rd e-mail shift

This is a part of a letter I sent to Dave Farber's IP list. I'll add a pointer to his entry if he forwards it.

AT&T Broadband users see 3rd e-mail shift

The article is disturbing and puzzling -- I hope either Jennifer Khoury or Peter Howe can offer clarification.

My concern is not primarily about the inconvenience of switching email names. I don't use my ATTBI address -- I just host my own email. What concerns me is that the email address seems to be being treated as if it were a physical delivery address rather than simply an entry in the DNS that gets mapped into MX records for delivery. There is no reason to make ATTBI.COM stop working. One can simply add a Comcast.xyz name that maps to the same delivery records. As to additional mailboxes as a compensation ... it's like offering five pennies to replace one dime. You certainly get more metal.

If this story is indeed correct then it's either a fundamental misunderstanding of what email is or how it works and/or indifference to user needs. It will be far worse if ATTBI.COM gets repurposed and people get names that are on spam blocking lists and have other meanings. It's like treating phone numbers as paths through Strowger switches instead the table entries that they are. But at least with phone numbers I can understand why the carriers are willfully stalling number portability despite the proof of concept in 800 number portability and call forwarding. In the case of ATTBI it's not obvious what is to be gained by forcing such a change as opposed to simply shifting emphasis to the new alias.

At a higher level it is just one more example of why the idea of forcing the DNS to serve the incompatible purposes of being a source of stable handles and transient commercial identifiers is so flawed. My email handle shouldn't change if my carrier switches equipment or ownership or if I move or if I change my last name. Conversely if I have an (additional) address associated with my role, that address should work to reach the person handling that function and not any particular individual. There is no real technical problem with doing this. The real difficulty is in the lack of understanding that leads to changing people's email addresses (a form of their real names) just because of some reshuffling of share ownership of corporate entities.

It's just another example of how we are recreating the ISDN experience with Broadband by having the providers in sole position to define what the product is. ISDN was for high value telecommuting and Broadband is for watching movies hence the focus on downspeed rather than reliable connectivity to support the defining applications such as VoIP. Only this time we don't have POTS as a simple alternative venue for innovation.

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