The world's biggest Internet service provider AOL is fighting back over claims it is launching an 'email tax' that threatens the efficiency of the Internet for those who do not pay.
AOL will this month introduce a CertifiedEmail service in the US and Canada, which will charge large email senders to pay to deliver authenticated mail with no risk of it being filtered out as spam to AOL members anywhere in the world. It may roll out to Europe and elsewhere in the second half of this year.
However, the introduction has been criticised by charities and not-for-profit organisations who use email to boost their campaigns and causes.
AOL compares it with additional services supplied by the Post Office, such as Recorded Delivery, that do not affect the standard service, and said that it would continue to run its free "white list", which recognises email marketing that meets good practice and legitimacy requirements.
AOL argues that the service will be good for companies and good for consumers. But protesters in the US -- a mixed bag of charities, civil liberties groups, non-profit organisations and gun owners -- have instigated a petition campaign against the move via a website, dearAOL.com.
In a media conference call reported in the Financial Times, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said "if AOL pulls the trigger on this", he would advise his members to boycott the ISP.
Jonathan Lambeth, AOL's UK based director of communications, said the company was concerned with any misinformation surrounding the introduction of the service, but welcomed the debate.
"Any time you make changes, some people are going to ask if it's a good thing. It will take a little time," he said.
Marketers using email as a promotional channel are unlikely to be deterred, the ISP believes. They may send fewer emails with the guarantee of delivery and as a result improve their quality and efficiency -- a move Lambeth said would be welcomed by consumers.
Richard Gibson, commercial director of RSA Direct, said: "It's a voluntary scheme and I think the industry will wait to see what happens."
AOL blocks 1.5bn spam emails globally every day, accounting for 70%-80% of its entire email traffic.
Goodmail Systems, based in Mountain View, California, will provide the system. It is also expected to provide CertifiedEmail via Yahoo! in coming months, by which time it will service 50% of the US consumer email audience.
Richard Gingras, Goodmail CEO, hit back at US protesters, claiming that 95% of email users are concerned about identity theft.
"Neither AOL nor Yahoo! nor any other email provider would ever do anything to impede the way regular email is delivered without message fees or 'email taxes', " he said.
UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.