AOL, Yahoo! to Charge Businesses for Commercial E-mail; Senate Debates Two-Tiered Access to Internet

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E-mail providers American Online (AOL) and Yahoo! announced Sunday an optional, fee-based program that will route e-mail directly to a user's mailbox, and identify it as “AOL Certified Mail” without first sending the message through junk mail filters, the New York Times reports. Users who pay for this e-mail service would potentially enjoy preferred access to the internet, where up until now, all data has been treated in the same way.

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The program is aimed at large commercial users such as banks, online retailers and other groups that send a large volume of emails often containing images and links, the Associated Press says. AOL currently strips images and links to prevent the display of pornographic pictures and malicious web addresses, reports and AOL and Yahoo both filter email messages for keywords commonly used in spam. Users have often criticized the system for filtering out legitimate mail.

AOL plans to accept messages processed by a company called Goodmail Systems in the next two months. Goodmail will verify senders' identity and collect postage. Yahoo plans to start testing the system in the coming months.

The fees, which would range from a quarter of a cent to 1 cent per e-mail, could earn millions of dollars for AOL and Yahoo!.

The Yahoo!, AOL program would potentially create a two-tier internet service, the Times says. Up until now senders and recipients have each paid their own costs for e-mail service and special access for paying customers could also mean faster service to preferred customers, says.

The Senate Commerce Committee began hearings on Tuesday to consider legislation that would guarantee what is called “Net Neutrality” – “effectively banning Internet access companies from giving preferred status to certain providers of content” – a two tier system. The companies that own the broadband pipes, like Verizon, are pitted against the major players like Google in the debate, CNETNews says.

Google Vice President Vince Cerf expressed concern that without a firm commitment to net neutrality, broadband companies could assume the role of “gatekeepers”, effectively shutting out Internet startups, according to Eight additional hearings have been set by the Commerce Committee this year.

Matthew Moog, the chief executive of Q Interactive, a company that operates a marketing service called CoolSavings that sends e-mail to 10 million customers, says that fees AOL and Yahoo will charge are too high, the Times reports. CoolSavings already works with Bonded Sender, a company used by Microsoft's hotmail service to identify legitimate sources of e-mail. Bonded Sender charges a flat fee of no more than $20,000 to high volume senders.

But Brad Garlinghouse, vice president of communications products at Yahoo! contends that the charge will make senders more careful. “Because the cost of sending e-mail is so low, some players are not as good at keeping their lists clean, he said according to the Times. “I still get emails from lists I signed up for three years ago, but I haven't responded to a single one.”

The American Red Cross, the New York Times Company and the credit report company Experian have signed up with Goodmail to use the service, the AP reports.

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