Friday, August 22, 2008

COMCAST SCORES "OWN GOAL" -- CLUELESS ANTI-SPAM EFFORT KILLS CUSTOMER EMAILS

Emails sent by Comcast broadband customers are failing to reach their properly addressed recipients because the company has changed the settings on its outgoing mail servers without informing its users or most of its own customer support agents.

Some Comcast customers have noticed a complete failure of all outgoing emails while others have found that some, but not all emails have gotten "lost in cyberspace."

Figuring out how to adapt to Comcast's covert email reconfiguration may leave millions of average users stuck in a technical quandary. They're unlikely to find help with Comcast because four of the five support people I spoke with over a two-hour period last night had no clue about the issue.

In brief: email uses two completely separate server systems to handle messages. One system (most often called a "POP" server) handles incoming mail. Outgoing mail is handled by another server called an SMTP server. This is why customers may find no problems receiving email, but later learn that important emails they have sent never arrive.

Only the fifth Comcast person -- a tech support supervisor I demanded to speak with during my marathon phone session -- knew that the company had changed the outgoing mail from SMTP port 25 to port 587. He said this was designed as an anti-spam action.

The support person wisely (for his own job) said nothing about why Comcast had not notified its customers about the change.

Fixing the problem will require all Comcast users to reconfigure their email client software to use the correct port. The procedures will be different depending on whether they use Outlook, Thunderbird or other software. But the change is not as simple as changing the port once that is located. The software must be configured to provide the same password and user name that is used for incoming email.

Businesses and individuals who have their own Internet domains (such as www.mybusinesssite.com) and receive their emails at that address (jane@ybusinesssite.com) will find the road even rockier. Many of those people have never set up the password and user name required to use Comcast's outgoing, SMTP server.

Comcast customer service will be unlikely to help these people either. Four of the five agents I spoke with had no clue.

Rather than deal with congenially clueless Comcast support people, the fastest and easiest way to solve the issue is to get a Gmail account from Google that provides an SMTP server.

In their email software settings under SMTP server, users can enter: "smtp.gmail.com" and then enter their Gmail password and user names in the appropriate fields.
In addition to the broadband hassles, my two-hour conversation raised significant issues with Comcast's ability to provide telephone service. My call was dropped twice. Plus the connection to the last tech was so scratchy and faint he had to repeat himself frequently.

Over the past week, emails my wife and I have send from both our home and business broadband accounts have not been received. In addition, numerous emails sent to us by Comcast customes have not reached us. Many of these have been important and significant communications and their loss has had a significant effect.

I am fortunate to have been the Chief Technology Officer of an Internet company and have many years of technical experience. This gives me a knowledge base and many tools with which to diagnose this problem. The average user who has been deluded into thinking Comcast is a reliable service provider will simply be baffled and assume that one more mysterious cybermonster has eaten their mail. This does, however, show that Comcast has done the impossible: made the U.S. Postal Service look really good.

This irrational, irresponsible, financially punitive and completely avoidable disruption to the business and personal lives of Comcast customers shows that the company cannot and should not be trusted.

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