What's This About?
In February 2006, AOL announced that it would accept payment for incoming emails. For these certified emails, it would skip its usual anti-spam filters and guarantee delivery for cash. Our coalition believes that the free passage of email between Internet users is a vital part of what makes the Internet work. When ISPs demand a cut of "pay-to-send" email, they're raising tollbooths on the open Net, interfering with the passage of data by demanding protection money at the gates of their customers' computers. Read More

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From: all@dearaol.com
To: postmaster@aol.com
Date: Tue Feb 28 13:00:00 EST 2006
Subject: An Open Letter To America Online

We wish to express our serious concern with AOL's adoption of Goodmail's CertifiedEmail, which is a threat to the free and open Internet.

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.

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.

A pay-to-send system won't help the fight against spam - in fact, this plan assumes that spam will continue and that mass mailers will be willing to pay to have their emails bypass spam filters. And non-paying spammers will not reduce the amount of mail they throw at your filters simply because others pay to evade them.

Perversely, the new two-tiered system AOL proposes would actually reward AOL financially for failing to maintain its email service. The chief advantage of paying to send CertifiedEmail is that it can bypass AOL's spam filters. Non-paying customers are being asked to trust that after paid mail goes into effect, AOL will properly maintain its spam filters so only unwanted mail gets thrown away.

But the economic incentives point the other way: The moment AOL switches to a two-tiered Internet where giant emailers pay for preferential service, AOL will face a simple business choice: spend money to keep regular spam filters up-to-date, or make money by neglecting their spam filters and pushing more senders to pay for guaranteed delivery. Poor delivery of mail turns from being a problem that AOL has every incentive to fix to something that could actually make them money if the company ignores it.

The bottom-line is that charging an "email tax" actually gives AOL a financial incentive to degrade email for non-paying senders. This would disrupt the communications of millions who cannot afford to pay your fees-including the non-profits, civic organizations, charities, small businesses, and community mailing lists that have arisen for every topic under the sun and that make email so vital to your subscribers.

And what if other Internet service providers retaliate and start demanding their own ransoms to accept mail from your millions of users? Your company works hard to simplify the Internet. Don't start a surcharge war that will complicate it with tiered services and dozens of middleman fees for every simple act of communication.

We have always been happy working together with you to fight spam and phishing. We have a common enemy in spammers. We are happy to work together to develop open approaches that attack the problem of spam and phishing. But a pay-to-send "certified" system does not help to fight spam. It only serves to make the Internet less free for everyone. We stand together in asking you to reconsider your decision to use CertifiedEmail.

Respectfully,

Over five hundred groups, including:

AFL-CIO Afro-Netizen AIDS Foundation of Chicago
American Academy of HIV Medicine American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) American Rights At Work
Association of Cancer Online Resources Aut-2B-Home Beacon Fire
Brothers In Action Californians Against Waste Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Center for American Progress Action Fund Center for Digital Democracy Chicago Media Action
Chin Music Press Chris Pirillo, Lockergnome Cleanpeace.org
Common Cause Communications Workers of America Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility Connecticut Parent Power Consumer Federation of America
Covenant College Craig Newmark Defenders of Wildlife
Democracy For America Democracy In Action Democratic National Committee
Donor Digital Drug Policy Alliance Earthjustice
Earthworks Echoditto.com Electronic Frontier Foundation
Englewood Ob/Gyn Equality North Carolina Free Press
Free Schuylkill River Park Friends of the Earth Gun Owners of America
Kaufman County ARES, Inc. Kaufman County CERT, Inc. Kaufman County Citizen Corps, Inc.
LabourStart Life-Zone M+R Strategic Services
MacTech Magazine Maryland League of Conservation Voters Media Alliance
Michael Geist Moveon.org Civic Action National Council of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA)
National Electronics Service Dealers Association National Video Resources North Carolina Harm Reduction Center
Oxfam America Patriot Post Peacefire
Prometheus Radio RightMarch.com RiseUp Networks
Roots of Promise Sinapu Southern Search & Rescue, Inc.
Southern Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. The Service Roundtable Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly Media
United Farm Workers Working America Working Assets
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