Help Me Convince Earthlink this is THEIR problem
April 16, 2021 7:12 AM   Subscribe

I have been having a frustrating issue with my own Outlook account connecting to my ISP's incoming mail server. I am going to attempt to get on the phone with someone tonight and resolve it. Please help me prepare for battle and convince them to take me seriously.

So - here's the details.

I have Outlook as part of the Office 365 package, and I have it connected to the server Earthlink has set aside for my email domain group (my original ISP was bought out by another company, which was itself bought out by Earthlink). This set up has been working ABSOLUTELY fine for a couple years now. This problem only started happening within the past week.

The problem is this: intermittently, when I go to retrieve email, Outlook first brings up the dialog box in which I would input my password. The correct password is already there, because I have it automatically set to remember my password. I click "okay" or whatever similar thing it says, an then I get the error which says it cannot connect to my ISP's incoming mail server. So I cannot receive email. I can SEND email just fine, since that is a different server at my ISP. Even more frustratingly, I could come back a half hour later and try again and it would work fine. But then fifteen minutes later, I could try again and it would stop working again.

Here are all of the things I have tried to do.

1. "Changed" the password on my Outlook email account (i.e., erasing the saved correct password and re-entering it). This doesn't seem to affect the issue either way.
2. Confirmed that I have the proper email settings for my ISP, for both the incoming and outgoing account. I do.
3. Re-entered these same settings, just in case. This DOES seem to temporarily help - I am able to get the "Microsoft Test Email" and retrieve my mail about half the time when I do this. The other half the time, I get an error message from Outlook that they are not able to connect to the server over at my ISP, so they can't fix things. Or, if I am successful, within an hour I'm back with the same problem.
4. Re-entered these same settings, with the assistance of someone on my ISP's live chat. This worked, but then an hour later I was back with the same problem again.
5. Used Outlook's "Repair" tool on my email account, which walks me through exactly the same steps in terms of confirming the proper email settings with exactly the same 50/50 rate of sucess.

Everything seems to indicate something is going screwy with the server on my ISP's end. I can access my incoming email via the ISP's webmail absolutely fine; for whatever reason, this is only affecting the Outlook interface, and it is only affecting incoming mail. (I was having that problem this morning, and sent a message to my roommate to confirm whether outgoing mail worked - and that went through just fine.)

So. What are the magic words I need to say to convince Earthlink that "Dude, I think the problem is on your end"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
 
"I'm getting timeout and authentication errors when trying to retrieve mail, but sending is working fine. HAve you all put any sort of time limit to how often I can check for mail? I'm connecting over [POP or IMAP, choose how it's set up in Outlook] for receiving mail."

Something like that?
posted by deezil at 7:23 AM on April 16


Response by poster: I'm not getting timeout errors that I know of - just a straightforward "your server is rejecting you" message that comes almost instantly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 AM on April 16


My only advice is to be sure to give the exact words of the error message you see. If corresponding by email, send a screenshot of it.

Also give an exact time and date, including timezone, of one of the times you received it, so they can find the event in their logs, which are chronological.

Signed, 25 years in IT.
posted by fritley at 7:57 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Definitely screenshot the error and tell them any error codes or server response codes Outlook spits out.

A thing that stands out to me is that the original ISP's server was "set aside" and changed hands a couple times - maybe Earthlink did an update or changed things up either accidentally or on purpose. If you haven't already, it could be worth googling some "Earthlink + old ISP name + mail server/incoming mail server" to see if this was announced or if others have posted about similar problems. Apologies if you've already done that, I imagine you've been through the google wringer with this. Anyway that could be worth mentioning to them, that your email access was originally from the old company.

"saved password" reminds me of an issue that frequently comes up at my work: if you save a password on one of our systems and ask it to remember the password, it attempts to re-connect automatically, so if your password expires, it has the old one saved and attempts to log in with the old one a bunch of times which fails and locks you out for too many bad connection attempts. Does not appear to exactly apply here since you are able to connect sometimes. But "entire account password change" might be something they ask you to try, so you could get ahead of it by just trying it yourself.

Just did a quick search and found this FAQ page that you have most likely seen, but it led me to an Earthlink-specific IMAP Email FAQ page explaining POP vs IMAP and details on setting up IMAP on Earthlink, with a warning not to use POP on one device and IMAP on another. If you set up a new device recently this could be good to be aware of (did a device update recently?) or let them know that any other devices you use are using the same settings. Also might be useful to let them know exactly which settings you've been entering, POP or IMAP, or let them know you've tried both in Office 365 with the same result. Could also be useful for tailoring any search terms for a last minute search on your end, e.g. "Earthlink + outlook 365 + old ISP + IMAP."

Tips on wording it: You are a former customer of [Old ISP] that is now owned by Earthlink, and can receive incoming mail via the [Earthlink/Old ISP] webmail. You normally use [IMAP/POP settings] on Outlook for Office 365 but within the last week Outlook 365's attempt to connect to the [Earthlink/Old ISP] incoming [IMAP/POP] mail server is intermittently rejected with an error that [details on the exact error message]. You've tried [attempts] but are still experiencing frequent connection issues.

hope this helps, good luck!
posted by ghostbikes at 9:34 AM on April 16


Oh also! if the Outlook error message includes a "more details" or "advanced" or "show more" type thing - that's good stuff, go into that and do a screenshot and tell them those details.
posted by ghostbikes at 9:43 AM on April 16


If you're handy with a console, consider tracerouting the name of your mail servers and logging what happens. Also, how quickly does that error message come back, roughly? Different sources of error often have different timeouts.
posted by mhoye at 10:10 AM on April 16


Response by poster: Just clarifying a few points after Ghostbike's response:

Just did a quick search and found this FAQ page that you have most likely seen, but it led me to an Earthlink-specific IMAP Email FAQ page explaining POP vs IMAP and details on setting up IMAP on Earthlink, with a warning not to use POP on one device and IMAP on another. If you set up a new device recently this could be good to be aware of (did a device update recently?) or let them know that any other devices you use are using the same settings.

The only time I touched these settings on my laptop was two years ago, when I had to repair this computer and had to reload everything. And I had the guy at the computer repair store actually set the email up for me, and we both pulled up this very page so he could set it up according to how Earthlink wanted it.

You are a former customer of [Old ISP] that is now owned by Earthlink, and can receive incoming mail via the [Earthlink/Old ISP] webmail. You normally use [IMAP/POP settings] on Outlook for Office 365 but within the last week Outlook 365's attempt to connect to the [Earthlink/Old ISP] incoming [IMAP/POP] mail server is intermittently rejected with an error that [details on the exact error message]. You've tried [attempts] but are still experiencing frequent connection issues.

To clarify - my initial ISP (Pipeline.com) was bought out by another company (Mindspring) in 1997, and then that new entity was bought out by Earthlink in the early aughts or sometime like that. I only brought it up because that is so old, I've in the past encountered some Earthlink tech support guys who marvel that they've never heard of my domain - but then they look into things and say "Oh, huh, I guess that is valid." I was wondering if there's a possibility that the hardware devoted to it is also similarly old.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:20 AM on April 16


The thing that all your mitigation attempts have in common is that they will all re-establish the connection. Typically, EarthLink will have a big pile of servers serving mail, and if one or some of them hate you for reasons (have you insulted a server lately?) then when you connect to *that one* there will be a problem. When you reconnect, you might find one that's more amenable. So, for instance, it may not be the detail of what you're doing, just that some servers know who you are and some don't, for some inscrutable reason, and the reconnect fixes things.

Screenshot and timestamp are good advice.

I would hold off on explaining your various reconnect performances for the moment, until they ask; I think I would say 'it sometimes works when I reconnect' and if they want information they will ask.

Companies as big as as EarthLink have levels of support people, and, although it varies by company, they often reserve their more technical people for the harder problems. The first point of contact might be working through a specific script ('have you turned it off and on again') before they throw in the towel and you get to someone who has more knowledge and access. If you throw too much information at them, they don't necessarily have anything they can do with it. (I'm sure you can see parallels with every phone call you've had with <insert cable company here>.)
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 12:22 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Mindspring! I remember that one. My Outlook for Mac has an entry under Window -> Sync Status and Window -> Sync Errors. I would have a look there as it often has additional information. You may have something slightly different since you're using IMAP or POP.

Tier 1 support typically is only going to walk you through the steps in the FAQ, but I would still go through it with them. If it's working some of the time you almost certainly don't have a problem with your configuration, since a bad port number would keep it from working altogether, but double check. If it were me I would also set up a different mail client (preferably also on a different computer or your phone), just to check. Thunderbird is a good cross-platform one.

(If you're not, you should probably move to IMAP unless you really want to stay with POP. Makes email much easier to manage on a phone or using webmail, among other things.)
posted by wnissen at 5:00 PM on April 16


Response by poster: ....Well, they tried simply switching me to a different POP server and now everything works fine. I don't know why the one I was using stopped working, and I even asked the agent i spoke to that and she said she didn't know either. I'm chalking it up to the server I was using was just borked and now i'm on a different one.

Calling it good - thanks!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:46 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Well, it sounds like the old POP3 server you were using was only online intermittently, resetting and rebooting itself, only to die again. Engineering / Operations would know about that, and they're probably not communicating with the Tier I support staff.
posted by kschang at 9:17 PM on April 16


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