time to turf that northwestel email address

Internet competition is coming. Maybe not today, or tomorrow. But it'll be here soon.

Internet competition is coming.

Maybe not today, or tomorrow.

But it’ll be here soon. And you need to make sure that your options are open when it arrives.

Your first step in preparing for Internet competition is to ditch that tired old Northwestel email address you have.

You know the one I mean. It ends in “@northwestel.net”.

That address is the chain connecting you to the ball that is Northwestel.

Until you get rid of it, you’ll be hogtied to that company’s services.

So it’s best to get started on turfing it now.

Technically, getting a new email address is easy.

The hard part is moving away from your old one. That takes time and effort. And it shouldn’t be rushed. You should give yourself a few months for the whole process to take place.

The goal here is to get an email address that is not dependent on an Internet service provider, that is portable and that you have more ownership over.

Your first decision is whether you’re okay with a free generic address – like one that ends in @hotmail.com or @gmail.com – or you need something a bit more unique.

A generic address is easy to get. Just go to Microsoft’s live.com or Google’s gmail.com and sign up for the service.

If you’re a Facebook junkie, though, you might just want to use that environment for email.

You can claim your own @facebook.com address and any emails sent to it will end up in your Facebook message stream.

Be cautious with these free email addresses, though. They have conditions and terms attached to their use.

Google, for example, makes a claim to own and repurpose anything you send through Gmail. And while both Hotmail and Gmail present ads, Google actually reads your mail to (theoretically) make those ads more relevant.

As for Facebook’s terms, well, you should be well aware by now that whatever you post to that site doesn’t belong to you any more.

Of course, if you’re going to go through all the trouble of establishing a new email address, the generic route might not be good enough for you.

The alternative is a custom solution. That means getting your own domain name (that’s the part of an email address that comes after the @ sign) and identifying a service provider to host your email.

You’ll pay for it, but you won’t have to put up with ads and you can rest assured that your email isn’t being analyzed and resold.

Businesses and organizations in particular should choose an email address that’s more unique.

Getting a custom email address, however, is a much more technically complex process. I’d recommend you hire a professional to handle it for you.

I typically refer clients to Vancouver-based Webnames.ca for this. They offer a full suite of technical services and have a truly terrific support team. Another good option is the Chicago-based 01.com.

If you prefer to go with a big, familiar name, consider either Microsoft Office 365 (www.office365.com) or Google Apps (www.google.com/apps). There’s just a lot less support with these guys.

Whether you go generic or custom, the easy part is getting the email address. What comes next is much, much harder.

Like, how do you get all your old email from the @northwestel.net account over to your new account?

If you’ve been using a desktop email client like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook, then it’s probably all downloaded already and you don’t have anything to worry about.

If you’ve been using webmail, though, it’s a whole other ball of wax. Your messages are still sitting on Northwestel’s server.

But that’s not too big a problem.

Most generic services like Hotmail have built-in tools for moving your messages over from a competitor. Read the documentation there to figure out how to do it. It’s pretty easy.

Custom email providers like Webnames.ca and 01.com can perform this task for you. Make sure to ask about it when you contract their services.

The hardest part of all, though, is logically – and even emotionally – severing ties with that old Northwestel email address. This means doing two things. First, you have to stop using it. And next, you have to get your contacts to stop sending messages to it.

An obvious starting point here is to send a message out to all of your contacts to introduce your new email address. Be sure to make it clear that you won’t be using your old Northwestel one any more.

If you’re a business, do a bit more. Celebrate your new email address. Maybe build a contest around it, or have an open house to introduce it.

I wouldn’t recommend forwarding messages from your old address to your new one, though.

Instead, just log into it periodically, like every week or so.

If there are any valuable messages that have been sent to your old address, be sure to reply from your new one and remind that contact about your new address.

Eventually you’ll just completely sever ties with your old @northwestel.net email address. That might not be until you cancel your Northwestel Internet service and move to a competitor.

But I wouldn’t wait that long.

I’d suggest you just schedule a date to just stop logging in to it, say a month or two after you get your new address. If you drag out the inevitable, you risk the stress of obsessing over an ongoing stream of what will mostly be spam.

Once Internet competition arrives, you don’t want to be dependent on an @northwestel.net email address. If you choose to move away from Northwestel, you’ll suddenly lose that address.

It’s better to prepare early and establish a new email address that is independent of your Internet service provider. Then your options are open and you’ll be able to take advantage of any opportunity that arrives in the Yukon.

Andrew Robulack is a writer and

consultant specializing in technology and the Internet. Read his blog at www.geeklife.ca.