This week we finally made some good progress at wrestling our domain name, CoffeeRatings.com, out from the clutches of our incompetent Web hosting provider, Burton Hosting. And not a moment too soon: we’ve noticed frequent database outage problems with Burton Hosting (as we are sure many of you have).

We expect to start the process of migrating over to CoffeeRatings.com’s new home this coming weekend. Today we just purchased a Web hosting package from another provider, and the process will likely be a bit funky for the next few days — as we figure out how to get all the software and services configured up at CoffeeRatings.com’s new home. Furthermore, the process of pointing the domain name over from Burton Hosting to our new host may take a couple of days to propagate throughout the Internet.

As frustrating as this whole process has been, it has also been quite an educational experience: namely, for how Web hosting businesses can construct layers and layers of disincentives for customers to switch providers. We’ve had to overcome many hurdles:

  • proving that we were the owners of the CoffeeRatings.com domain with just our name listed as the administrative contact (Burton Hosting registers all customers with an administrative contact using their UK address and their [now defunct] UK phone number, making it very difficult to prove with a photo ID that your name is connected to that administrative address and phone number)
  • getting our domain name associated with an administrative e-mail address we could access (Burton Hosting registers all customers behind a common support e-mail address of theirs which, lo and behold, is providing no response nor support — so we were stuck)
  • getting Burton Hosting to mail the CoffeeRatings.com authorization code to the domain name’s administrative e-mail address: to unlock the domain for transfer (again, Burton Hosting has already proven that they let emergency support tickets and e-mails go unanswered and untouched for weeks…and counting)

At each step, Burton Hosting used their inertia and lack of support to their advantage to thwart our attempts to take our business elsewhere.

Burton Hosting is a licensed reseller of domain names issued by Tucows; they resell these domain name services to customers like us. So in order to get any movement at each of these roadblocks, we had to pester Tucows’ compliance officer to go after Burton Hosting with a stick. Some steps Tucows was able to handle themselves and bypass Burton Hosting’s unresponsiveness. But for others, the Tucows compliance officer had to threaten whatever clandestine operations Burton Hosting had left in order to get them to do anything on our behalf.

Our lessons for dealing with Web hosting providers

So to summarize, our lessons for any customer of a Web hosting provider are as follows:

  • Ensure your domain name’s administrative e-mail address is something you can access. Better still, get your domain’s authorization (EPP) code. It is the key to your escape hatch when you have to switch providers under duress. And things can go south quickly.
  • When paying for Web hosting, make a mental note of how the level and quality of their customer service is part of the price you are paying. By removing telephone lines, online forums, chat support, by not answering e-mails, and by ignoring all of our support tickets, Burton Hosting essentially pulled a bait-and-switch by changing the terms for what exactly we were paying them for.
  • A Web hoster will pull the plug on their support to save costs, etc., and do so without telling you. So you have to be vigilant.
  • If you notice the level of support declining with your Web hosting provider, start backing up everything. If tickets take longer for responses, if phone lines no longer work, if online support forums are no longer moderated (worse still: they disappear): man the lifeboats. These are all signs that you must prepare to jump ship at a moment’s notice.
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