AOL Foots Bill For Non-Profit Email

    March 8, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

AOL wasn’t about to let history repeat itself. This time when it made an announcement about its email system, nobody was going to misunderstand anything, blast it all! The press release had plenty of repetition, a full preemptive Q&A, and a Biff Tannen style, “no, butthead,” peppered throughout.

The company announced late last week that it is offering not-for-profit organizations two new ways to more securely deliver email messages complete with links and images at no charge.

The first new option was to allow not-for-profit organizations to qualify for AOL’s Enhanced Whitelist, thereby receiving the same assurance as for-profit entities also on the free list. Qualification for the Enhanced Whitelist includes abiding by AOL anti-spam and email policies and standards. Mail sent through the Enhanced Whitelist program will not be marked as “certified” but will be handled and delivered on an identical basis to Certified Email.

The second option available to not-for-profits is to use an AOL-approved list of third-party email accreditation service providers to authenticate their email. To offset the qualifying fee of these third-party providers, AOL offered to pay for initial sign-up fees.

AOL said it will begin releasing the approved providers within the next 30 days and hopes to implement the program within the next 90 days.

In what AOL first called a misunderstanding and then misinformation, the company caught a tremendous amount of fire when it was perceived by major media outlets that it would begin charging a type of email postage to senders by phasing out the Enhanced Whitelist. Many speculated that not-for-profit organizations would also be greatly affected by the change.

AOL was quick to deny such a plan was ever in place and took the opportunity to reiterate its promise to retain its Enhanced Whitelist program.

“We announce this today to make sure that there is no further confusion or question about what not-for-profits would need to do to be able to communicate to AOL members on a level commensurate with large, commercial email providers who opt to use Goodmail’s Certified Email program,” said AOL Postmaster Charles Stiles.

“There will be no requirement, ever, for not-for-profits who deliver email to AOL members to pay for email certification and delivery.”

Stiles said further details on the program would be offered in the next 30-60 days.

The end of the press release also included some Q&A to further dispel rumors, to offset future communication problems, and to reassure bulk mailers the company had once put on the brink of cardiac arrest:

Q.What about individuals? Does AOL have any plans to start charging them for e-mail?

Absolutely not. Never. No way. These systems are designed solely to help AOL recognize legitimate commercial and not-for-profit bulk e-mailers. Individual users will never be charged for personal mail they send.

Q.Does this mean that AOL is backing away from Goodmail’s Certified E-mail system?

No. We believe Goodmail’s Certified E-mail is a valuable tool for bulk mailers, and we think it will benefit our users by lowering the instances of phishing and identity theft, as well as creating incentives for commercial mailers to send less mail. We’re making this announcement today because we want to make it crystal clear that not-for-profit organizations and advocacy groups will have multiple avenues for getting all of their emailed delivered, with links and images, to AOL members with no requirement for them to pay, ever.

Q.What happens between now and when AOL selects the third-party accreditation system? Will organizations have any trouble getting their mail delivered?

AOL is not making any major changes to its current e-mail delivery system while it overlays these new validation procedures. In other words, if an organization’s mail is getting through today, it will likely get through tomorrow. AOL is not going to start blocking legitimate e-mail, although we will obviously continue to apply our anti-spam and e-mail standards rigorously.

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