Beware of the Leopard

My mum uses BT as her broadbrand provider. I’m not sure if it’s called ‘BT Openworld’, ‘BT Yahoo!’, ‘BT Internet’ or ‘BT Total Broadbrand’. Nice one, branding folks. Anyway, if you don’t want to use the email address they provide for you then sending email can be a little fiddly, because they seem to block access to all SMTP servers other than their own. So you’re forced to send email from your non-BT address through BT mail servers, which can require a little gentle gymnastics depending on your email program. But it’s not impossible. Until today when it started beeping with a “553” error.

It looks like people have been having a similar problem for ten days now:

BT Yahoo SMTP mail client configuration
We are aware that some BT Yahoo users are having difficulty sending email via their email clients. We would like to remind customers that they need to put their @btinternet.com address in the FROM box of the email client. Please contact the helpdesk should you have any queries.
12 March 2008 02:38PM
Ongoing

Less than helpful for all those people who have non-btinternet.com email addresses. Still, the error helpfully has a link to further explanation. Which is very handy, but also a little confusing, seeing as the help is all about Yahoo! Mail, which my mum never uses. Still, we’ll give it a go.

The instructions basically say: “If you’re going to send email from your own custom email address, we want to confirm it exists before we let you. So add the address to your Yahoo! account.” Simple enough. Except, if you log in to Yahoo! using your BT email address and password, the pages you see bear no relation to those described in the instructions. (Even if you guess correctly that you should log in with these details, which is far from obvious, given the page says nothing at all about BT.)

If you manage to navigate to your account information, the only likely place to add an email address is the various “Profiles” you can set up. Maybe one of these can hold the custom email address. But if you create a new one, or edit an existing one, the only email-related possibility shows a novel use of HTML radio buttons: a single unchecked button next to your BT email address. Use this email address with this profile or… er, not. No real luck there.

We’ll leave out the intervening period of time during which you search the web and Usenet trying to find a solution and cut straight to the solution, for anyone who themselves got here by Googling. [Insert montage of keyboard tapping, mice clicking, search boxes being filled, curses uttered.]

Less than obviously, for someone who signed up to BT’s broadband, you must visit www.btyahoo.com which, currently, redirects you to http://www2.bt.com/static/i/btretail/consumer/broadband/btyahoo/. Then you need to click “Sign in”.

No! Wait! Not the “Log in” link at the top of the page. That will ask you to log in to your BT account. You want to click the red “Sign in” button on the right to “make the most of your online experience” and “Sign in to BT Yahoo! Online”. Of course, silly you.

Then, after a bit more redirecting, you’ll end up at login.yahoo.com (the third top-level domain and brand of our brief excursion) where you should log in with your BT email address and password.

You’ll then be at your all singing and dancing “BT Yahoo! Home Page!” Ignore the animated advert (currently from BT, “Bringing it all together”) and look toward the bottom of the left-hand column, under “BT Y! Services”. Click the “Mail” link.

We’ll now, finally, be where those original instructions expected us to be in the first place. Except in point 2, for “Yahoo! Mail Classic” there is no “Mail Addresses” text to click and you’ll need to click “Mail Accounts” instead. From there it is, mercifully, all about following the instructions.

I hope this has helped you if you were Googling your 553 error message.

It shouldn’t be this hard should it? These re-brandings and partnerships (between BT and Yahoo!) are no doubt touted as “adding value” for consumers, creating exciting synergies, maximising value, etc. Well take your brands and shove them. I don’t care. Every time you change or add a brand you’re confusing people. Yes, “people”, like you are Mr/Ms Brand Manager, not the plebian other of “consumers”.

If I’m paying for your service, a service whose helpline costs even more money, I don’t expect to be sent to a help page that requires me to guess which of your brands I have to visit, then which service I have to log in to, and then travel through three different brands before I reach a destination that bears a passing resemblance to the first instructions.

Never mind forcing people into this tortuous branded hell purely for having the temerity of wanting to use their own email address, rather than your own branded one, in the first place.

</rant>

UPDATE: Thanks for the comments everyone — good to know this has been useful to you. I just posted a quick update on the affair. (25 Mar 2008)

Comments

  • Ah, thanks for that. I got into even stickier straits as I was already logged in with my normal Yahoo! ID and it got all confused, hooray! They seem to have removed the link to the Y! help page from the service status for now, but I look forward to getting a phone call from my parents in the next few days about this…

  • Oh, and I forgot the most stupid thing of all - BT SMTP is authenticated anyway, so you’ve already proven you are who you say you are!

  • Many, many, thanks for this - mine is now all OK 4 hours later!! - I sent an email to BT they said it would be fixed in 24 hours - they don’t seem to know the answer to their own problems….a warning email from them would have been helpful.

  • I cannot believe how stupid this whole situation appears to be. Up until recently there’s been no problem sending email through my bt*whatever it’s called now* connection. Then it stops. Because I have a Mac account I can use the Apple SMTP servers to send email so I change my config and think it’s nothing more than a transient problem.

    But now I find it’s down to one part of BT changing their configuration without telling anyone on support or, clearly less importantly, their users. Words fail me.

  • Thanks - still trying to get my head round what BTcrapwho? have done and why I should have to spend ages sorting out my family’s email settings. My 18 month contract with BT runs until next January - cant wait to dump them - but not for SKY who have effectively blocked all but their own email addresses. At least they cocked up the emails before I signed up to BT vision and got locked in for another 18 months

  • Thanks very much for that Phil. The symptoms looked very much like an Outlook stuck read receipt except that I couldn’t find one, so your posting was a godsend. I think BT are going to be swamped by this. A point to note: I’ve just spent the past half hour registering our various email addresses, and a few times I got to the final stage of entering the verification code that’s sent to you by email only to get the response ‘Unknown error. We apologise for the inconvenience’, but when I deleted the account and reentered everything it subsequently worked. I think that their server must be getting overloaded.

  • Close to the last straw eh? Months ago I had to redirect all my incoming meil via another isp as BT had decided to trash any redirected email from UK2.net who I have some domains with. This means any real spam filtering has to be done separately. Hardly anything comes in via BT now. However I was always able to send until yesterday. Then all of a sudden I wanted to reply to an ongoing conversation with someone on Flikr in USA, and it all stopped. Was it something to do with Flikr being connected to Yahoo I wondered. Re-traced my steps, but no. I tried contacting BT Yahoo online, but all the online forms result in a “page not found” on SEND. Before spending cash on an 0870 to some far flung land, I searched the web. Well, there is hope maybe! Jeez they call this “Premium Mail” too. Ha-Ha, but thanks for YOUR help, and to Google that found you.

  • Thanks for digging this route out, it was really starting to get on my wick! Wretched BT.

  • Have for years piggy-backed my virgin email on my wife’s bt account. Shocked to find it not working two days ago. Thank you so much for helping me to get it working again. Might be worth making the point that once the off-piste email address is registered with bt yahoo, you have to create a hybrid account in outlook express that has all the same settings as a purely bt account, but with the off piste email address added in. Also, it does take a while for the registration to get through the system.

  • Hey Phil,

    just wanted to say thanks for the info, saved me a lot of time and fiddling with settings!

    BT really are attrocious!!

    Cheers

  • Thanks for making more sense of their ramblings. Maybe their original instructions were writen in India along with the call centres!

    Thanks again.

  • If you ask the call centre people they are apologetic and tell you there is a fault which the engineers are attempting to remedy, but cannot tell you either what the fault is, or when it is hoped to have it fixed. They then give you a number (0800 169 0199) where you get a recorded message which curtly tells you that you should use you “…@bt.com” address. They do not acknowledge that this is a fault nor that they are making any attempt to fix it.

    The result is that I am now thoroughly confused. All I want is to be able to send emails from my proper email address (…@easynet.co.uk). That’s what I’m paying BT for, or what I thought that I am paying them for.

  • Thank you for providing a quick and easy method to resolve a problem BT’s staff seem unable (or unwilling) to resolve. I was begining to doubt my sanity when my e-mails would not send, I should have know BT would have an hand in it somewhere!

  • This morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I carried out the instructions. It works fine.

    As a bonus, and to make it even simpler, you can get direct to your BTYahoo sign in page (without going to the complicated log in page first) by the simple expedient of using the URL www.bt.yahoo.com (as opposed to www.btyahoo.com).

    Hope that makes it even easier for everyone.

  • 24th March 2008

    From: Michael Rapoport

    I encountered the “553” problem yesterday and became increasingly anxious at my inability to send email or to find the solution - until this morning, when Google led me to Phil Gyford’s website. I am most grateful for the clarity and efficacy of your instructions, and will drink your health later - but I also feel I should send BT an invoice for the considerable wasted time, as well as anxiety - why could they not simply send an email by way of warning? They send plenty to promote their products and offers.

    Thanks again.

  • Thank you VERY much for taking the effort to post this. I’m afraid this really is the last straw for BT’s relationship with me. I’ve only two months to run on my contract and I’m going to accept it’ll cost me £35 to leave but I really can’t handle this hassle any more.

    Best wishes,
    Graham.

  • Brilliant! Thank you very much!

  • Over the past 10 days or so, BT broadband users have found that non-BT email addresses cannot be used with BT’s outgoing SMTP server.

    This suggests that BT appear to be getting closer to Yahoo by off-loading more email functionality to them! Net result is that any email address other than your assigned BT address MUST be authenticated by Yahoo before it can use the BT outgoing SMTP server.

    This being the case, it appears that BT may have actually off-loaded the entire public email activity to Yahoo. I also suspect that the so called “BT SMTP outgoing email server” is actually a Yahoo server with a BT alias name! That would explain why all email addresses must be authenticated by Yahoo before being used.

    If this is the case then I guess, BT in their wisdom saw this change as an internal change that affected no-one. After all they were simply asking Yahoo to take over their entire public email system. This white labelling exercise is quite normal, but of course, some bright spark - in BT or Yahoo and the project team - who thought of and who managed this ‘simple’ change failed heavily!

    One always expects better service from such big brand names. When such brand names start to bundle non-core products/services in order to capture more market share, market pressure is the only way of keeping them honest. If one thinks of the economic shortfall that this particular issue has caused - we could be counting millions. We “the market” need to vote with our feet because I’m sure the small print will have limited if not annulled any consequential damages!

  • Thanks for this a great time saver and much appreciated.

  • Phil

    You’re a star! Many thanks for setting out the way through the BT/Yahoo maze so that I could send SMTP mail again via BT Boadband (error 553 problem).

    For other readers, don’t depair if you get a “Sorry, unknown error, thank you” message after the final verification step on the Yahoo website. I did in 2/4 cases, but the email accounts were fixed anyway.

    Cheers

    Mike May

  • Phil, thanks so much for your instructions. How you picked your way through that lot I can’t imagine. I managed to get my own bt email account working using the steps you gave.
    I don’t know whether any other bt users have the additional problem that I have. I have used the bt broadband feature which allows you to set up a second email user on the same broadband account. Adding the email address for that person to my btyahoo account details does not resolve the ‘blocked email’ problem for them, and because there is only MY btyahoo account there is nowhere else to add this data. So in my case the problem is only half resolved via the btyahoo route.
    However, it IS possible to set up an alternate mail server in Outlook which is accessible via BT broadband and fortunatley for historical reasons i have another server available. Setting that up just for sending email for the second user email account appears to have sorted that out for now. I think this incident, which is being dismissed as ‘trivial’ in the press by BT will prompt me to look elsewhere for broadband services.
    Thanks again for the help.

    Peter Russell

  • Thank you SO much for this information. I cannot begin to describe the frustration I was experiencing trying to solve this before I came across your words of wisdom. You have saved my sanity.

    Kate

  • Thanks for all the information, I rang the B T Chairmans office today and they did not have this info.
    When they got a nice lady to ring me she was not aware of the problem and it was only when I showed her your page that she contacted Yahoo to find out how to sort out the problem. Once again thanks for the help and a least one person at B T now knows how to fix it !!
    Regards Rob

  • Funny, everyone notices when their email gets stuffed up and yet no one seemed to noticed when BT were overlap double-charging a large amount of their BT Yahoo customers around 1 million per year as they moved them non phone billed to phone billed

    There’s a simple solution to all things BT related. Don’t use them. They’re incompetent, overpriced, have a horrendous work culture and they’re run by so many outsourced companies that they don’t even have control over the day to day running of their own company any more

  • Solved the problem after so many wasted hours! A heart felt thanks!

  • Loads of good press for BT today!

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/25/bt_email_verification_update/

    Have finally got my email working again after 5 days with no thanks to BT. Eventually discovered that on the Yahoo page it was forcing the case of the from address into lower case and once I had changed my from address in Outlook to all lower case it started working. So the from address is now case sensitive!

    I will be leaving BT as soon as my contract is up and I really hope other people do the same

  • Errr… am I missing something here? Don’t every one of you guys get SPAMmed to death. BT, along with most ISPs, are only doing what we all have been bangging on at them for years to do. Stopping people sending junk or even worse SCAM email and at the same time using YOUR domains. Agreed the comms was bad, but you have to admit it’s a step in the right direction. And to those peps saying they will dump BT because of this….. good luck. Any ISP will be doing the same now.

  • Daytona you are missing the point.
    This was a change made by BT (or Yahoo or whoever) without any notice to the customer, and in a way which meant that most affected users had no idea how to resolve. The instructions to fix it were inaccurate and incomprehensible both to users and to BT support staff as must be obvious by the posts here. I am not an IT idiot but this was just a hopeless mess.
    And I for one, have been told on more than one occasion by BT that I’m no longer a BTYahoo customer but a BT Broadband customer so why should I be remotely interested in what Yahoo are doing?
    The attitude of BT in publicly dismissing the problem both as trivial and ‘all the user’s fault’ does not endear one to them.
    The problem with changing providers is that you can lose service for several days which would be very problematic for me but perhaps next time I go on holiday….


  • We use BT Business Broadband.
    In February they blocked port 25 (Outlook default SMTP output port) without notice.

    Our web and e-mail hosting company suggested another port to select. This restored e-mail magically.

    This might just circumvent the the BT ISP server recognising your traffic as outgoing SMTP.

  • I used to be able to email a director (MD of the Consumer Division?) at gavin.e.patterson@bt.com

    I don’t know if it still works, but I’ll be sending him another email shortly.

  • That’s a good idea Newell, although when I was trying to figure things out we did try a couple of other ports that my email provider has open, such as 587, but no joy. Still, worth a try!

  • I got a reply from BT. The key paragraph is

    “Firstly please accept my apologies for the experience you have gone through as a result of our recent security upgrade. We have suspended the security upgrade effective from Tuesday 25th March at 10:15pm and although we have to make this change it will only happen after we have informed customers and made sure that the steps some customers will have to go through are as simple as possible.”

    They will be doing this again, but promise to communicate with customers in advance this time.

    They also referred me to http://www.btyahoo.com/verify. This may be an improvement on the original instructions. I have yet to check whether it works.

  • Thanks a lot for the info but I was still struggling until I came across the entry from Neil Youngman. The problem was that my btinternet address was apparently not verified, let alone any external address. Unfortunately, following the instructions, it’s not possible to verify, update or delete the default (btinternet) account. It doesn’t allow duplicate “from” addresses either.

    I then looked at the http://www.btyahoo.com/verify link and discovered that you need MS Outlook 2003 SP3 for the “upgraded” service to work. Once SP3 is downloaded and installed Outlook works again without a problem. Good of BT to bury that little nugget.

    Thanks again.

  • Hi, thank you so much for your info which works, you deserve a medal.

    Keith

  • Also posted on Phil’s ‘quick update’ thread
    Another variation on the theme.
    I have an @btinternet.com email address, which I have been using happily for the past 9 months. Since mid-March I have been getting the ‘553’ error and have proved it is to do with receipts I have allowed from emails received. However, when I try to follow the instructions on the Yahoo/BT pages, it tells me my email account already exists, so I can’t add it. I therefore am unable to follow the problem resolution provided. I am luckier than some, as I am able to send normal emails, but there are always 4 additional messages that Outlook 2003 (non-SP3 version) tries to send every time I hit the Send button, which generate the ‘553’ error, even when I haven’t got any normal emails waiting in my Outbox to send. Oh yes, and they don’t appear in my Outbox, so I can’t delete them.
    Does anyone know of a way of clearing out these receipts, if they do not appear in the outbox? I would not like to remove and re-install Outlook. Is upgrading to SP3 likely to fix it?

  • Well, this should encourage all of you. I’ve been researching this and banging my head on this here in the U.S. for almost three months because they switched things here first. So, I tried to follow directions and went to my Yahoo! account and added email addresses. No go. Intermittent working anyway because the att.yahoo.servers have been going up and down for the last two months and you could send unsecured through several hacks.

    After reading this blog today - ready to give up - I noticed the indication that it was the DSL service address NOT the Yahoo! address (not my YIM Yahoo! mail address). So, I tried typing in att.yahoo.com (the SMTP server address) and wouldn’t you know - a totally different interface appears that requires not my Yahoo! email but my AT&T email address - go into the mail option on the right and then the options link in the upper right and of course - no email addresses filled out. Got them in and it’s working.

    Don’t know if that will make anyone feel better - but I’ve been banging my head on this for much longer ;-)…and I’m an IT person :-( - I even switched email clients thinking it was on my end as a Mac user. I’ll be passing this on to everyone on my side of the world who still doesn’t have it working.

    Thanks for the push in the right direction!

  • Thanks a million Phil for this info - I’m not a BT user, just good old Yahoo (abroad), but had same problem. Now sending ok. Cheers

  • Thanks for all this but what’s the ‘verify / we’ll send you an e-mail’ thing? I go through the steps, skip page 3 as told and then, with no verification whatsoever, I am back on my list of accounts - with the new account added - hurrah!! I select the new account as default, send a message … and you know what happens without me telling you, don’t you? [‘….authenticate….’]. Previously I used TurboNote, a sticky note prog, one good feature is that you are able to send the note to an email address without having to open your e-mail prog - so very, very quick [received it opens up in recipient’s e-mail prog]. Of course it doesn’t work now…. I wish I had never signed up to BT… and wouldn’t recommend it to others. There, I feel better now.

  • This response is for Foxy about invisible messages being sent. I found this link while trying to research this issue and it helped…though follow the directions carefully….it is not a very intuitive program….but it did solve the issue.
    http://www.howto-outlook.com/howto/deletereadreceipt.htm

    Re: the previous post….I too have previously verified and don’t get the Verify button when I skip page 3….even after I delete the verified account and re-add it….did you resolve that?

  • Great, looks like they have started this off again.

    My 74 year old father has just rung in a panic, he has BT Internet and uses his own domain name and guess what, he’s getting 553 error messages whenever he tries to send stuff.

    Has he got a BT/Yahoo email address? God knows, he certainly doesn’t know and nor do I and I set it all up for him. Fixing it from 90 miles away is pretty tricky and trying to talk him through it results in blind panic at his end.

    Looks like we’re going to spend our BH Sunday on a three hour round trip on the M5 to fix his email because BT are a bunch of incompetents. Fantastic….

  • Well the good news is they are at it again, in the last couple of days I have started getting the dreaded error 553 message again. To add to the fun the BT system does not seem to allow tyou to re-verify your email address, you remember the one that you verifyed last time they tried this !!

  • I also have all the verification problems as well, on a secondary account, cant verify either, BT help ? said its because I have Outlook 2000 and it cant be fixed unless I upgrade with Outlook 2003 SP3, they even started to do it by taking over my pc. I had to stop them as they obviously dont know that could ruin all my previous email history and archive. phew. what a crap service.

  • Phil

    Thank you for the investigation and work - as an ex-IT bod, this reminds me of why I left the business! Got my wife’s mail sorted this morning so she could organise her birthday party - it’s these everyday things that something like this impacts and BT should be castigated (that’s ‘castigated’) for not communicating this change in advance, not providing clear instructions, and not supporting customers to make the change, whatever the reason for the change.

    And as for branding … well.

    Thanks again!

    Marcus

22 Mar 2008 at Twitter

  • 02:39pm: Four hours of trying to completely change a piece of theatre that seemed OK 3 months ago. Interesting and frustrating. Now: weekend!

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