Virtually Stuck

Tom StierRecently, I was in a situation where I needed to transfer my phone number from one provider to another. This is when I learned about ‘virtual telecoms’.

Here’s the definition of a virtual telecom. “A virtual network operator (VNO) is an entity that does not own a telecom network infrastructure but provides telecom services by purchasing capacity from telecom carriers.”

In my case I needed to transfer the number from a virtual telecom to a real telecom – ATT.

The phone number was bundled into the plan with our Internet Provider. At the time, this was a great setup. We were able to dump the $65 monthly charge with Verizon for the bundled $12 a month phone plan with the Internet provider.

One drawback was giving up a physical landline for a virtual phone that only worked over the Internet connection, in a rural area that had at least one major power outage a year. That Trimline phone had it’s own power!

The other drawback became apparent when we needed to leave our Internet Provider and take our phone number with us.

This resulted in a protracted process of contacting the previous Internet Provider, who in turn needed to contact the bundled virtual telecom, and then contacting a REAL telecom. We were only able to ‘rescue’ our phone number after the situation was escalated to the highest levels at all 3 companies. This took twenty phone calls.

This virtual scenario also happens in web hosting and domain name registration. Many hosting companies make things easier for customers by allowing them to purchase hosting and a domain name at the same time.

Some hosting companies, such as, say, CartoonHosting (not a real host) are not real domain name registrars. So, in CartoonHosting’s case they farm out your domain name to a real registrar – say, Launchpad – and CartoonHosting becomes your ‘virtual’ registrar.

In this virtual setup, the customer has no direct login to manage their domain name at Launchpad. They need to manage the name in CartoonHosting’s rudimentary domain options panel. I know of one instance where renewing the domain in CartoonHosting’s panel did not actually renew the name at Launchpad. This resulted in downtime for the website the domain was attached to.

Some other hosting companies who act as virtual registrars have no options panel for managing domains. You need to call and spend time on the phone with their virtual support for any change.

A bigger issue becomes apparent when you want to leave your hosting company and take your domain name with you. That process will put you right in the middle of the same three way tug-of-war I described with virtual and real telecoms.

I’m no fan of GoDaddy, but they are a real domain Registrar. They have a good do-it-yourself options panel for changing domain name settings. You just have to avoid all their endless marketing.

If your web hosting company provides virtual domain registration, don’t use it. Keep your domains registered with a real Registrar like GoDaddy.

Remember that Registrars are only required to contact you at an email address you likely used 10 years ago to setup your account.

Remember also that short domain names are very valuable, and Registrars would much rather  make thousands of dollars compared to the $20 or so they make when selling a long, hard to remember domain name.