BELFAST, Maine — Doug Hufnagel has had the same email address pretty much since email was first available in the public sector, but this week he is preparing for that address to disappear forever.
That’s because it has the domain name midcoast.com, which Biddeford-based internet and telephone company GWI sold in 2016 to another company. For the past six years, GWI continued to provide service to email customers who use that domain name — what comes after the @ in an email address — but it was scheduled to discontinue service on Monday. About 470 people are affected by the change, according to GWI.
“I got it right at the beginning,” said Hufnagel, 76, of Belfast, who runs the “Coffeeman” food truck on the city’s waterfront. “It’s just a super pain to have to switch over. I’m not that technologically advanced to begin with, and something like this is a challenge.”
Fletcher Kittredge, the chief executive officer of GWI, said that the midcoast.com domain name was first used by a company called Midcoast Internet Solutions. That business, which was based in Rockland, began in the mid-1990s in the pioneer times for internet service providers. Among other services, it provided wireless broadband internet, especially to people who live on islands, and digital subscriber line connections to Mainers.
Midcoast.com was first used in 1995, Kittredge said.
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In 2012, GWI purchased the Rockland company, including the midcoast.com domain name, he said. But offering internet to island communities wasn’t always a straightforward job, and GWI looked to move on relatively quickly.
“From our perspective, the problem is that wireless, particularly wireless to islands, tends to be less reliable,” Kittredge said. “We’d have the situation where we’d say, ‘We’re really reliable,’ and someone on Facebook would say, ‘Wait a minute, my internet has been out for two days because there was a storm, and you’re saying you can’t get a boat out because of the weather? That’s not reliable.’”
In 2016, when the company was moving toward becoming a fiber optic internet provider, GWI sold the portion of the business that serviced island communities and the domain name to a different Rockland based-company, Redzone Wireless.
“We were very happy that Redzone took it over,” Kittredge said. “It was only about three percent of our business, but 25 percent of our headaches.”
During the sale negotiations, Redzone asked if GWI could continue to provide service to the email customers until it had a chance to transfer them over. That was fine with GWI, Kittredge said — but six years later the changeover still hasn’t happened.
“We went along providing email service and not getting paid for it for six years. We told Redzone a few years ago that we’re going to stop this at some point. That point has finally come,” he said. “We were just continuing to deliver mail, because we wanted to avoid the situation that we have now.”
Redzone Wireless couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
After GWI sent notices out to the midcoast.com email users in April that their email addresses would disappear into the ether in late July, some people got in touch.
“We’ve had a number of people call us up, saying ‘I will buy the email domain,’” Kittredge said. “We would say we can’t do anything. It doesn’t belong to us. We can’t sell it to you.”
The domain name has belonged to Redzone since 2016.
One of the people who got in touch was Paul Murray of Matinicus, who also has had the midcoast.com email address since the very beginning. In fact, when Midcoast Internet Solutions brought the internet to Matincius, it did so by putting a satellite dish on Paul and Eva Murray’s ham radio tower.
The Murrays did a trade — the couple got internet in exchange for paying for the electricity on the tower.
“It was nice to actually know the people, rather than dealing with some nameless, faceless company like Google,” Eva Murray said.
Paul Murray is a little emotional to see something that’s part of the island’s technology history disappear.
“At first, I was really grumpy about it. I’ve gotten over the worst of the grumpy part,” he said. “To me, it’s really sad. It literally was the first influx of technology to Matinicus. It would have been nice for that to continue, but it just can’t, under the circumstances.”