July 16, 2004

Who runs the Telus mail servers?

Geekery ahoy. Unless you like reading about wrestling technical details out of ISP's, keep moving. The rest of you, come on in; you'll like this one...

Until the other day, I was happily using three different mail servers for three different purposes: work, holycola, and the default Telus account that comes with my DSL hookup. The relative importance of each server can be whimsically shown in terms of comparative size:

Why is the Telus server so small? Let's just say they've had their problems when it comes to mail. Let's also say that in the first couple of years of having Telus DSL, their mail server was prone to multi-day outages and other uncertainties. The reliability has improved a lot since then, but since then I'd taken up two web hosts (including mail services) for professional and personal purposes that kept me happy. The only time I wasn't happy with Telus mail in the past year was when the rare email I sent through Telus was rejected because Telus had been blacklisted for allowing spam to be sent from them.

I did take up the blacklisting issue with Telus from time to time, and trying to get their staff to admit that this was the case was like pulling teeth from a stray cat. Not that I know what that's like, but I can imagine. Their first proposed solution after coming clean was that I petition the blacklisting domain on behalf of Telus to have them removed. Nice try. But I digress.

On Tuesday I started the day sending and receiving mail happily. By mid-day I could no longer send mail through my two non-Telus servers. But I could receive mail. What gives? Larry, one of my holy trinity of technical problem-solvers, helped me figure out that the problem originated with Telus. He believed they had started to block the usual outgoing mail port, 25.

When I called Telus, the service rep didn't know what was going on until he looked into it: sure enough, they had started to block port 25, but didn't bother telling any customers. The solution is for me to use Telus for sending all outgoing mail, reducing me to a single point of failure for sending mail now. (I can use the web interfaces for those servers in a pinch, but is that a solution or a less-than-the-best workaround...?) The reasoning for this change - to stop spam and viruses. In the words of 'Patrick', the prissy tech support rep, it's to make the Internet a safer place. Consider that as this exchange happened while I tested my new email settings with Paddy on the line.

Moi: I left SMTP authentication on and changed it to my Telus ID, but the server is rejecting the authentication.
Patrick, the Telus Rep: Yes you should turn authentication off.
Moi: My other mail servers require it. They say it's to make things more secure.
Patrick: Yes but Telus doesn't use it so you should turn it off and then you'll be able to send mail.
Moi: How does it make the Internet safer to not require authentication to send mail, when abuses of sending mail are what caused the problem in the first place?
Patrick: Can you test the new settings again to see if you can send mail?

That bit of Brazil-like weirdness aside, I want to point out that changing to Telus mail servers isn't the big problem for me. The problem for me is that a debilitating change was made and nobody said boo.

After a long and calm discussion with Mandy, the Telus customer service rep, I wrangled a few months at a deep discount for my pain. I tried to press the point that Telus had acted unprofessionally and uncaringly. I jokingly asked if the animals I saw on their commercials were in charge of the mail servers - was it the pony or the toucan who was in charge? Maybe the dancing gecko? However much I tried to be funny and nice, I didn't try to hide the undertone of serious disappointment.

This morning I got a call from my retail boss, who had been flustered since Tuesday because he couldn't send mail but could receive it. I swung by and changed his outgoing server to Telus and behold, problem fixed. How many other people are sitting, wondering, unsure of whether they should call Telus or what? The people who make, or in this case fail to make a decision about informing users of changes, should be able to see the worry and frustration that they cause with their social incompetence.

Telus is far from the worst when it comes to customer service. They've cleaned up their act quite a lot after the CRTC threatened to force down their rates unless they improved call waiting times last year. But within the company a cancer of callous disregard and ignorance continues to run unchecked. That cancer is a problem of corporate culture, and this incident is very telling of who comes first and foremost at Telus. It's not the customer, it's not the tech support people who didn't know about the change. It's the people in the back wanking away with their server settings and thinking only of themselves.

Posted by Todd at July 16, 2004 10:40 AM - http://www.holycola.net/archives/000489.html