E-Mailers Cool Down on Goodmail, Lawmakers Heat Up

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Though the controversy over AOL's use of Goodmail CertifiedEmail has subsided in the e-mail industry, nonprofit and advocacy groups - as well as a state lawmaker in California - continue to express concerns.


The latest opposition came last week from California state Sen. Dean Florez, who called for a closer look at the program.


"It seems to me that AOL is setting a horrible precedent here," said Florez, a Democrat. "The whole idea of Net Neutrality gets wiped away, and we are left with an Internet of haves and have-nots."


Florez told DM News that he wants Yahoo and AOL technical experts to explain how Goodmail and its fees will work at a March 28 hearing. He also wants AOL to explain the program before it rolls out in April. Yahoo plans to implement a CertifiedEmail program in a few months as well.


AOL recently told nonprofits they can get free third-party e-mail accreditation, but only discounted rates for Goodmail CertifiedEmail. Florez wants to determine how AOL defines a nonprofit group, because some churches and other organizations are not classified as 501c nonprofits but still wouldn't have the money to pay for a premium e-mail delivery service. Instead of proposing legislation on the issue, Florez aims to "have them publicly explain ... what it is. Maybe AOL hasn't thought out the end-user consumer perception of this."


Meanwhile, e-mail service providers said they are still trying to assure clients that their e-mails will be delivered properly in AOL.


"I think there is still some confusion out there, but nowhere near as bad as when the announcement first came out," said Annette Tonti, CEO of e-mail marketing firm Bluestreak, Providence, RI. "The way AOL handled it initially caused the grief. They made it sound like, 'Everything else is going away, and you have to do this.' Then they went back and said, 'You don't have to do this.' It confused everyone."


Bluestreak and many other ESPs are offering Goodmail CertifiedEmail to senders who choose to use it. "It's basically a way to send your mail very specifically packaged up, kind of like FedEx," Tonti said. "It gets there quicker and more assured."


Groups opposing AOL could be reassured by a report from the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology, Washington, which said last week that it's not concerned about CertifiedEmail.


"CDT does not believe the service will harm the ability of non-paying senders to deliver messages to AOL customers," according to a statement in its "Certified Email Plan Stirs Controversy" report. Legitimate bulk mailers who opt not to participate should see no decline in deliverability.


Also, consumers should not confuse the CertifiedEmail controversy with Net Neutrality, an issue that has been raised by nonprofits and legislators.


"CDT believes that certified mail and network neutrality are distinct and separate issues, distinguished by significant differences relating to competition, capacity and architecture," the report said.


Though critics have said spam could rise with CertifiedEmail, CDT noted that Goodmail required extensive screening of companies signing up: "Thus, spammers and unscrupulous marketers will not be able to pay their way around AOL's spam filters."


Spammers getting more mail through on AOL is one issue that concerns Florez.


"There is an assumption there that spammers won't pay," he said. "I know a lot of people who would pay."


AOL Clarifies CertifiedEmail


AOL clarified several points about CertifiedEmail in a "Fiction Versus Fact" paper it distributed. DM News excerpts the main points:


Fiction: CertifiedEmail is an "e-mail tax."


Fact: This term is perhaps an eye-catching, political fundraising tool, but just plain bad information. The consumer pays nothing. AOL opposes the concept of any kind of e-mail tax.


Fiction: CertifiedEmail is exactly what proponents of "Net Neutrality" have warned about.


Fact: An alarming "reach" ... [it] has absolutely nothing to do with so-called "Net Neutrality." It's not an "apples-and-oranges" comparison. It's more like "apples and kumquats."


Fiction: CertifiedEmail is a way for spammers to send unwanted e-mail to consumers.


Fact: Goodmail strictly disallows those who have not previously secured the expressed consent of consumers from signing up for Goodmail tokens.


Fiction: CertifiedEmail circumvents and replaces AOL's existing anti-spam tools and filters.


Fact: AOL always has and always will retain the right to make final determinations about who does and does not e-mail our members. Besides, the Goodmail sender verification process is comprehensive, thorough and strict.


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