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DearAOL: Email Fees Are Wrong

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America Online (AOL) seems to have created a tempest of backlash on the Internet regarding their recent suggestion to start charging fees for email. A number of voices in the tech industry criticized almost immediately. Now the politicos are out in force and there are a lot of unlikely bedfellows ready to give some not-so-pleasant pillow talk to the massive company. This time, it’s not a “Dear John” letter; it’s a “DearAOL” letter.

A number advocacy groups covering a broad spectrum of interests and ideologies launched a concerted campaign, DearAOL, targeting the Internet powerhouse division of Time Warner. Its rare for groups like MoveOn.org Civic Action, Gun Owners of America, Humane Society of America, the Association of Cancer Online and even the Democratic National Committee have all come out against this move. There were a couple of dozen other groups as well.

The group sent an open email to AOL with the name of each signatory attached. The jist of the argument is, “This system would create a two-tiered Internet in which affluent mass emailers could pay AOL a fee that amounts to an “email tax” for every email sent, in return for a guarantee that such messages would bypass spam filters and go directly to AOL members’ inboxes. Those who did not pay the “email tax” would increasingly be left behind with unreliable service. Your customers expect that your first obligation is to deliver all of their wanted mail, and this plan is a step away from that obligation.”

Back in January, when word got out that AOL and Yahoo, with the help of Goodmail Systems were going to put out a “pay-for-play” email authentication service, some people were a little irritated with the situation. On January 31st, our own publisher and iEntry CEO, Rich Ord commented on his blog:

And what exactly would publishers be paying for? Simply the right not to have their email publications distorted and made useless to subscribers by removing images and links. Paying a third party in order not to have my products messed with seems a little bit too much like a Sopranos episode to me.

The problem with the service was not only did AOL already offer something just like it for free, they’re new plan would allow the alteration of some email dependant upon the content. Literally hundred of businesses not mention various advocacy groups, political and otherwise utilize email as business publications, solicitations for funding and other possibilities. DearAOL put it more eloquently:

AOL’s “email tax” is the first step down a slippery slope that will harm the Internet itself. The Internet is a revolutionary force for free speech, civic organizing, and economic innovation precisely because it is open and accessible to all Internet users equally. On a free and open Internet, small ideas can become big ideas overnight. As Internet advocacy groups, charities, non-profits, businesses, civic organizing groups, and email experts, we ask you to reconsider your pay-to-send proposal and to keep the Internet free.

This issue probably isn’t going to go away. At this point AOL is making the service optional for groups that want “additional protection.” It’s obvious someone at AOL perceived a fairly significant value for this so one can expect them to repackage this when the heat passes. It’s an almost sure thing that they’ll eliminate their other duplicate tiers of service if they can. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

DearAOL: Email Fees Are Wrong
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