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KAI RYSSDAL: You’ve got one more day to weigh in with the Federal Communications Commission on this topic: Should the government force Internet service providers — companies like AOL — to forward your email from, say, an AOL account to whatever you’re using now.
A freelance editor in Washington, D.C., has petitioned the FCC to create just such a rule. That might be less logical than meets the eye. We’ve called Declan McCullagh at CNET to explain. Declan McCullagh, good to have you with us.
Declan McCullagh: Why thank you.
RYSSDAL: So, what do you think of this thing? I mean, it sort of makes sense — just in a post office kind of way — that you want ISPs to forward your email, right?
McCullagh: Well, you’d be right if the Internet was designed like the post office or the telephone system. But it isn’t, and that’s what makes this proposal a little bit silly. It would be like having a Mailboxes Etc. box be required, even after you shut down your service with them, to forward your mail — when instead, the post office should be the one that handles this.
RYSSDAL: So what exactly might be a solution to this?
McCullagh: The solution is probably to say to someone — and this was a professional, a freelance writer who’s running a business out of her home who asked the FCC for this — spend seven or eight dollars a year, get your own domain name and handle the e-mail forwarding there. That’s what I do, I’ve been doing it for the better part of a decade, McCullagh.org. So when I switch Internet service providers, I move from Washington to California, now I have my McCullagh.org email forwarded from Verizon, now I have it forwarded to AT&T. It works really well — that’s the way to do it on the Internet.
RYSSDAL: The ISPs that are involved in this case — AOL specifically, but also others who were asked to comment by the Associated Press — aren’t. Why do you suppose they’re not willing to pipe up on this one?
McCullagh: Well, I think they’re probably not trying to dignify it with a response. The ISPs are not going to be in favor of this — it costs them money to forward email for someone who’s not a customer. If the requirement were imposed, it would just jack up the cost for those of us who are still current customers to cover the cost of handling people who are no longer customers.
RYSSDAL: Let me ask you something that came into my mind as soon as I heard this story, and you touched on it briefly with the note on your Web site, or anybody’s own personal domain name: Why wouldn’t somebody who’s running a business, if they didn’t want to deal with getting a domain name, get themselves a Yahoo! Plus mail account or pay one of those Web-based e-mail services, and just deal with it that way?
McCullagh: Exactly. I mean, anyone who’s running a serious business out of an AOL.com address is just asking for trouble — that’s not the mark of a serious businessperson. But domain names are very cheap now, and that’s the way to handle forwarding on the Internet. The Internet was not designed to handle email forwarding. Do you want your email to bounce through five different ISPs before it finally gets to you if you’ve switched accounts a bunch of times? Probably not. And that also means there’s a chain — so if one link in the chain is broken, your e-mail’s never going to arrive.
RYSSDAL: Declan McCullagh is the political correspondent for News.com. Declan, thanks a lot for your time.
McCullagh: My pleasure.
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