Sunday, February 26, 2006

Stop AOL's Email Scheme

AOL is threatening the Internet as we know it. They want to charge an "email tax" for sending email. Those who don't pay would risk their emails not being delivered.Can you help change AOL's mind by signing this emergency petition?

The very existence of online civic participation and the free Internet as we know it are under attack by America Online.

AOL recently announced what amounts to an "email tax." Under this pay-to-send system, large emailers willing to pay an "email tax" can bypass spam filters and get guaranteed access to people's inboxes—with their messages having a preferential high-priority designation. 1

Charities, small businesses, civic organizing groups, and even families with mailing lists will inevitably be left with inferior Internet service unless they are willing to pay the "email tax" to AOL. We need to stop AOL immediately so other email hosts know that following AOL's lead would be a mistake.

Can you sign this emergency petition to America Online and forward it to your friends?

Sign here:

Petition statement: "AOL, don't auction off preferential access to people's inboxes to giant emailers, while leaving people's friends, families, and favorite causes wondering if their emails are being delivered at all. The Internet is a force for democracy and economic innovation only because it is open to all Internet users equally—we must not let it become an unlevel playing field."

AOL is one of the biggest email hosts in the world—if we stop them from unleashing this threat to the Internet, others will know not to try it. Everyone who signs this petition will be sent information on how to contact AOL directly, as well as future steps that can be taken until AOL drops its new "email tax" policy.

AOL's proposed pay-to-send system is the first step down the slippery slope toward dividing the Internet into two classes of users—those who get preferential treatment and those who are left behind. AOL pretends nothing would change for senders who don't pay, but that's not reality. The moment AOL switches to a world where giant emailers pay for preferential treatment, AOL faces this internal choice: spend money to keep spam filters up-to-date so legitimate email isn't identified as spam, or make money by neglecting their spam filters and pushing more senders to pay for guaranteed delivery. Which do you think they'll choose?

If AOL has its way, the big loser will be regular email users—whose email from friends, family, and favorite causes will increasingly go undelivered and disappear into the black hole of a neglected spam filter. Another loser will be democracy and economic innovation on the Internet—where small ideas become big ideas specifically because regular people can spread ideas freely on a level playing field.

If an "email tax" existed when MoveOn began, we never would have gotten off the ground—indeed, AOL's proposal will hurt every membership group, regardless of political affiliation. That's why groups all across the political spectrum are joining together with charities, non-profits, small businesses, labor unions, and Internet watchdog groups in opposition to AOL's "email tax."

The president of the Association for Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) points out the real-world urgency of this issue:

In essence, this is going to block every AOL subscriber suffering from any form of cancer from receiving potentially life-saving information they may not be able to get from any other source, simply because a non-profit like ACOR—which serves more than 55,000 cancer patients and caregivers every day—cannot afford to pay the fee. 2

Can you sign this emergency petition to America Online and forward it to your friends?

Thank you for all you do.
–Eli Pariser, Noah T. Winer, Adam Green, and the Civic Action team, Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

P.S. The Electronic Frontier Foundation summed up the "email tax" issue beautifully:

Email being basically free isn't a bug. It's a feature that has driven the digital revolution. It allows groups to scale up from a dozen friends to a hundred people who love knitting to half-a-million concerned citizens without a major bankroll...

Once a pay-to-speak system like this gets going, it will be increasing difficult for people who don't pay to get their mail through. The system has no way to distinguish between ordinary mail and bulk mail, spam and non-spam, personal and commercial mail. It just gives preference to people who pay...3

1. "Postage is due for companies sending e-mail," New York Times, February 4, 2006

2. "AOL's New Email Certification Program: Good Mail or Goodfellas?" L-Soft Release, February 2, 2006

3. "AOL, Yahoo and Goodmail: Taxing Your Email for Fun and Profit," Electronic Frontier Foundation, February 8, 2006

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