Words by c.z.robertson

I hope the future isn't Orange

2007-05-19 22:57:06 GMT/BST

For reasons too tedious to explain, I get my ADSL connection for free. This is good. The free ADSL connection I get is supplied by Orange Broadband. This is bad. I wouldn't recommend them to my enemies.

Bad thing #1: Their DNS server redirects non-existent domain names to their own machine. This means that if you mistype a domain name in your web browser you'll be redirected to an Orange error page with search and links to the rest of their portal. Verisign tried this a few years ago but were forced to back down when everyone said it was a really bad idea. That affected everyone, but this only affects Orange customers so there isn't the big outcry. It's still a bad idea though, for all the reasons I listed before.

Bad thing #2: They force you to use their own SMTP server for sending any outgoing mail. Any attempt to connect to port 25 of another machine is met with an SMTP server that just gives you an error telling you to use smtp.orangehome.co.uk. Presumably this is a roadblock to make it harder for botted machines to send spam. Unfortunately it has the side effect of breaking perfectly legitimate (and fairly common) uses as well. It tripped me up and meant that a time-critical piece of mail didn't get sent when I wanted it to. It tripped up a friend who used our wi-fi from his laptop. And it just plain breaks the end-to-end principle that has made the internet so successful.

Bad thing #3: Their SMTP server won't deliver your mail if it thinks it looks like spam.

I happen to work for an organisation (a large one that you've probably heard of, and that, I hasten to add, I don't speak for) that has a newsletter system. It works like this: You enter your email address on a web page, we send you a confirmation email to ensure that you're really the owner of that address, you reply to that email and when we receive your reply then we start sending you newsletters. So a few weeks ago I was asked to diagnose a problem seen by someone trying to sign up for one of our newsletters who also happened to be an Orange customer. It turned out that he'd followed our instructions to hit Reply and then Send and Orange's SMTP server had decided that his email looked like spam and refused to deliver it to us.

In my opinion, their spam filters suck. There's nothing particularly spammy about those emails. But that's not the point. The point is that he was the customer. He was paying Orange to deliver his emails. He was not paying Orange to look at them and pass an ill-informed judgement. And of course, even if he'd had the technical knowledge to figure out what was going on, it still would have been compounded by #2. He couldn't have switched to a saner SMTP server. There is no alternative. There is no way for an Orange customer to use our newsletter system.

So my boss (a techie of some significant skill) tried phoning them to advise them of this problem and was met with questions like "is the computer turned on?". I don't think he ever got through to anyone who could understand the problem, let alone do anything to fix it.

So, if you want a broken internet connection and to be treated like a spammer and tech support that lives up to all the worst stereotypes, use Orange.