Political Groups Join Protest Against AOL, GoodMail

The latest protest over AOL's plan to use GoodMail's Certified E-Mail service comes from nonprofit and advocacy groups led by liberal-leaning political organization Moveon.org and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The two groups joined about 50 other organizations yesterday to launch a protest site called dearaol.com. The home page is an open letter to AOL arguing that its plan to use GoodMail would create a two-tiered system of e-mailers: affluent mailers willing to pay a fee the group calls an “e-mail tax” and other organizations that wouldn't pay and likely would “be left behind with unreliable service.”

The coalition said it hopes to educate consumers about the plan and asks protesters to sign the open letter to AOL.

The site is a reaction to AOL's decision last month to use GoodMail's Certified E-Mail system, which charges e-mailers anything from a penny to a fraction of a penny for guaranteed delivery into people's e-mail boxes. Paid messages would be highlighted as “AOL certified” and would automatically display images and links to Web sites. Those not paying would not have images or links displayed automatically, though AOL says all messages from a sender in a person's address book would be received.

AOL plans to begin using the system within a month, and Yahoo will begin testing the system with plans to add the service sometime next year.

“Companies can continue to send e-mail to Yahoo Mail users at no cost in exactly the same way they always have, and we are not planning to require payment to ensure delivery to our users,” said Yahoo spokeswoman Karen Mahon in a statement yesterday. “In the coming months, Yahoo! will test an optional certified e-mail program based on “transactional” messages only, such as bank statements and purchase receipts, as an additional layer of protection against e-mail identity theft scams known as phishing attacks.”

However, the groups protesting the change fear charging for e-mail delivery sets an ugly precedent.

“AOL's 'email tax' is the first step down a slippery slope that will harm the Internet itself,” the group's letter reads. “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.”

The plan has stirred much debate and protest in the industry especially from nonprofits and small businesses. The protest also has created some strange bedfellows as the coalition's members include liberal groups like Moveon.org and conservative organizations such as RightMarch.com and Gun Owners of America.

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