America Online Inc., apparently looking to deflect criticism of its plans to launch a paid guaranteed-delivery service for email, said Friday it would offer nearly the same benefit to nonprofit organisations at no charge.
But a coalition of mostly nonprofits that have launched a campaign against AOL's paid service said Friday that AOL's plan wasn't enough to satisfy their concerns. The group is taking the Dulles, Va., unit of Time Warner Inc. to task for starting what it sees as a two-tier delivery system that will give preferential treatment to companies that can afford to pay to have their bulk email bypass spam filters and be delivered directly to AOL members' inboxes.
In offering an olive branch to detractors, AOL said qualifying nonprofits could receive at no charge benefits similar to those of commercial customers, including guaranteed delivery of email, along with their images and web links. Spam filters often strip the latter from messages to protect recipients from phishers and virus writers.
Under the paid service, attachments also can be sent with the email, which is marked in the inbox with an icon marked certified. The icon identifies the sender to the recipient who must agree in advance to receive the email. The service is expected to be helpful to legitimate companies sending bulk email to customers or potential customers.
"We want to make sure that not-for-profits who depend on timely communication with their members get all of the privileges of this powerful medium," Charles Stiles, AOL postmaster, said in a statement. "Our announcement today guarantees that every certified not-for-profit will get the same benefits as private-sector companies that have decided to utilize Goodmail's Certified Email system." Partner Goodmail Systems Inc will run AOL's certified email service, which is scheduled to launch in 30 days. AOL, however, will administer and operate the "Enhanced White List" service for nonprofits.
As a second option to nonprofits, AOL plans to arrange for the use of one or several third-party email accreditation service providers to authenticate the organisations' email. AOL will pay for the flat fee and signup costs normally charged by the vendors on a pro-bono basis.
AOL expects to have the new offerings for nonprofits available within 90 days.
Last Tuesday, a coalition of 50 groups, many of them nonprofits, launched a campaign to pressure AOL into halting plans for its pay-to-send system. The coalition said it planned to circulate petitions among its memberships and to gather signatures online from the public in an open letter to AOL.
On Friday the coalition, which calls itself the "DearAOL.com Coalition," said AOL did not go far enough.
"AOL's proposal is a small band-aid for a small number of professional nonprofits, but does not end the threat to the free and open Internet's greatest benefit -- a level playing field that allows everyday people to turn small ideas into big ideas," the coalition said in a statement. "AOL would still let some Internet users pay for guaranteed email delivery while leaving the little guy behind with less reliable email service."
One member of the group, the nonprofit Association of Cancer Online Resources, rejected AOL's compromise outright, calling it a "bribe."
"I don't take bribes," Gilles Frydman, president of ACOR, said in a statement. "The solution is not AOL offering a few of us service for free in exchange for our silence -- the solution is preserving equal access to the free and open Internet for everyone."
Besides ACOR, the coalition includes political action committee MoveOn.org, Gun Owners of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Humane Society, the AFL-CIO, and the media reform group Free Press.
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