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AOL to roll out free e-mail to nonprofits

The move follows protests from groups worried their e-mails would get low priority

By Reuters
March 6, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Reuters - America Online Inc. on Friday said it will not charge legitimate nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups to have their e-mails authenticated and delivered to consumers.

The decision addresses an outcry from political and civic activist groups, which had said that AOL's plan to reduce junk mail by charging fees to senders of mass e-mailings amounted to an attack on the free exchange of ideas online.

The company said it is seeking to make it "crystal clear" that nonprofit groups would have all their e-mails delivered, including images and working Web links, contrary to what advocacy groups had charged in recent media reports.

"There will be no requirement, ever, for not-for-profits who deliver e-mail to AOL members to pay for e-mail certification and delivery," said Charles Stiles, AOL's postmaster.

The company said it is also offering to pay for the e-mails of qualifying groups to be validated by a third party.

"AOL may never see eye to eye with organizations who say there must never be a system such as certified mail," an AOL spokesman said. "But we believe it will benefit consumers by tackling problems such as identity theft and phishing."

AOL is working with the Goodmail Certified E-mail program, which authenticates e-mail messages, allowing the delivery of images and hyperlinks on most high-volume messages.

Last week, the advocacy groups Electronic Frontier Foundation and called the plan a tax on e-mail (see "Critics rip AOL’s pay-to-send e-mail system"). sent an e-mail to its membership claiming the "very existence of online civic participation and the free Internet as we know it are under attack by America Online."

It claimed that, among others, charities and civic organizing groups with mailing lists would be left with "inferior" Internet service unless they proved willing to pay the "e-mail tax" to AOL, a claim the service provider denied.

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