On paper, the bundle of services included with a broadband contract seems both generous and useful.
Yet some of these services aren’t as benevolent as you might expect.
This is particularly true of free ISP email accounts – once promoted as a key benefit every customer should take advantage of.
In fact, free email accounts represent the thin end of a proprietary wedge, discouraging you from defecting to rival broadband providers.
If you do decide to take your custom elsewhere, you may encounter some unexpected and unwelcome issues.
Recent events also suggest the underlying principles of ISP email accounts are being questioned by the providers themselves, with their long-term future now in doubt.
But before we get to these forthcoming changes, let’s consider why such accounts have historically been desirable – from both a provider and consumer perspective.
The best things in life aren’t free
ISPs know that retaining an existing customer is cheaper and easier than attracting a new one, while simultaneously using them as brand evangelists is doubly advantageous.
They aren’t setting aside a portion of server storage space for multiple household email accounts out of the goodness of their hearts.
A proprietary email account is effectively free advertising.
Every time someone receives an email sent through an account hosted by a particular ISP, it reminds them that the company (a) exists and (b) offers broadband and email services.
It’s also a clever way of deterring the customers using those accounts from leaving. Because if they do, their email accounts may become expensive – or unavailable.
If you’re a former Virgin Media customer, your inbox will be deleted 90 days after your account closes, regardless of how reliant on it you are.
This represents a reason to stay with Virgin, rather than defecting elsewhere.
Other ISPs use departing customers as an income stream. You’ll need to pay BT £7.50 per month just to maintain the email services provided free to all active account holders.
Yet while this clearly has potential to be a dependable revenue stream among some ISPs, others are preparing to turn their backs on the entire process…
Pluses and minuses
Following a week of outages and inaccessibility last November, Plusnet customers with proprietary email accounts could have been forgiven for feeling frustrated.
Their sense of impotence was heightened when some were informed Plusnet was planning to discontinue its entire email operations before Easter 2022 – something the firm did not subsequently deny.
Anyone who set up a Plusnet email account in good faith might be aggrieved at that prospect, especially considering how heavily many of us rely on email nowadays.
From account management and password resets to direct communications and document sharing, email is indispensable in the age of home working and virtual appointments.
However, it’s not indispensable from the perspective of ISPs.
Despite the benefits outlined above, they are increasingly unlikely to trumpet the inclusion of email services as a reason to sign up nowadays.
The cost and responsibility of hosting huge volumes of customer email data (especially given widespread consumer reluctance to delete or archive old messages) is a burden they don’t need.
If Plusnet drops its proprietary email services, other leading ISPs are likely to follow, and the days of free email through broadband providers will quietly end.
As such, if you’re entering a new broadband contract and you’re offered the chance to migrate your inbox from an existing free service like Yahoo or Gmail, think carefully.
Dedicated email services might be rebranded, but they’re far less likely to disappear entirely.