AOL’s Attempt to “Bribe” Non-Profits Backfires
DearAOL.com Coalition Grows From 50 Organizations to 500 In One Week —
30,000 Email Users Sign Open Letter
San Jose Mercury News Editorial Blasts AOL’s Email Tax, Calls It “Cash Cow”
That Threatens “Free and Open Internet”
Despite AOL’s attempt to divide its critics, the DearAOL.com Coalition
announced today it has grown tenfold from 50 organizations to more than 500
as it fights AOL’s controversial plan to create a two-tiered Internet that
leaves the little guy behind.
Last week, AOL’s proposed “email tax” came under fire from a coalition of
political groups on the left and right, businesses and non-profits,
charities, and Internet advocacy organizations. More than 400 publications
around the world published articles about AOL’s plan to allow large
mass-emailers to pay to bypass AOL’s spam filters and get guaranteed
delivery directly into the inboxes of AOL customers — leaving the little
guy behind with increasingly unreliable second-tier Internet service.
In just several days, the DearAOL.com Coalition grew to include everything
from babysitting co-ops to pony clubs, from farmers markets to biker
dailies, from Hawaiian skateboard makers to church groups — demonstrating
that small, large, ordinary and extraordinary groups depend on free email
delivery. All coalition members are located at www.dearaol.com.
Clearly worried by the coalition’s growing momentum, AOL on Friday tried to
deceive the public and media into believing AOL was being responsive. They
repackaged their already existing “Enhanced Whitelist” as if it were a new
program for nonprofits and tried to divide the coalition with an offer to
give special email privileges to some “qualified” nonprofits while leaving
other non-profits, charities, small businesses, and even neighbors with
community mailing lists behind.
“I don’t take bribes,” said Gilles Frydman, Executive Director of the
Association of Cancer Online Resources, a free nonprofit online service for
cancer patients. “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.”
If anything, the net result of AOL’s Friday announcement was that they
accidentally conceded the central point of the DearAOL.com Coalition.
“By offering to move a few of the little guys from the losers circle to the
winners circle, AOL conceded the broader point of our coalition-that AOL’s
would create a two-tiered Internet that leaves many behind with inferior
service,” said Adam Green, a spokesperson for MoveOn.org Civic Action.
This weekend, the San Jose Mercury News exposed this reality in an
editorial entitled, “Paid e-mail will lead to separate, unequal systems;
free systems will become neglected.” It identified AOL’s threat to the
“free and open” Internet this way:
The Internet giant announced that in the next 30 days it would launch a
certified e-mail system that would guarantee delivery for e-mail senders
who paid the equivalent of an electronic postage stamp. Those who don’t pay
could face a greater risk of having their mail tripped up by AOL’s spam
“[AOL’s pay-to-send system] is likely to work as an incentive for AOL to
move as many senders as possible to the paid system?the temptation would be
to neglect the free e-mail system, whose reliability would decline.
Eventually, everyone would migrate to the fee-based system. There would be
no way around the AOL tollbooth.
“Why doesn’t AOL announce it will forgo the fees — a decision that would
help silence critics? AOL won’t say…The charge per e-mail is also
worrisome. The costs of certifying a sender are largely fixed. So the only
reason to keep charging a sender who’s already been vetted is to turn
e-mail into a cash cow. [Link: http://tinyurl.com/jvms4 ]
“Perversely, AOL’s pay-to-send system would actually reward AOL financially
for degrading free email for regular customers as they attempt to push
people into paid-mail,” said Danny O’Brien, Activism Coordinator for the
Electronic Frontier Foundation. “AOL should be working to ensure its spam
filters don’t block legitimate mail, not charging protection money to
bypass those filters and offering band-aids to allow some select nonprofits
to bypass them as well.”
Last week, the coalition — representing over 15 million people combined —
announced an “Open Letter To AOL” at www.DearAOL.com urging AOL not to
implement an “email tax” that would harm Internet freedom. Over 500
organizations and 30,000 everyday Internet users have signed this letter.
Coalition members include Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, the Association
of Cancer Online Resources, the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org Civic Action, Gun
Owners of America, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Free Press, and
“AOL’s pay-to-send scheme threatens the free and open Internet as we know
it,” said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, a national,
nonpartisan media reform organization. “The Internet needs to be a level
playing field. The flow of online information, innovation and ideas is not
a luxury to be sold off to the highest bidder.”
The DearAOL.com Coalition is engaged in an ongoing large-scale public
awareness campaign about the threat AOL’s email tax poses to the free and
open Internet. More information and a list of all coalition members are
located at www.dearaol.com.