February 27, 2006 10:10 AM PST

E-mail fee plan spurs protest

A campaign is beginning to protest plans by America Online and Yahoo to charge high-volume senders of e-mail fees.
The New York Times

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Here's my (poorly worded) letter
I am the publisher of the longest running youth website online  launched 01 October 1995, we are over 10 years old and still running - and it runs because our costs are as low as we can keep them. Our users are youth and teens, people who use AOL and other public mailing services because they dont have corporate accounts. That means I have to accept whatever you want to do, and that means a site with no margin for additional expenses is about to get an optional bill.

That option is to pay a fee to the companies that already are rewarded for their online services (like you AOL). You are rewarded by revenue derived by offering competitive services that attract and retain your user base  something you create through ongoing technology, including devising competitively placed email services. Now that the user base is large, you have turned your revenue requirements against small content providers whose lifeline to users is email. The internet access revenue model is changing  those who control access to people can now generate revenue from those who do not. AOL used to be a gated community with AOL content available strictly to AOL subscribers. It appears it wasnt too hard to think of their users in the same way: as a gated community with can monetize the e.postal service the moment it hits their server.

Could you imagine if the city you lived in (say New York) told the US Postal service that sure, you can deliver mail to our city, but unless you give us an additional fee, that mail might not get to the user, or will arrive in a way that its unrecognizable as mail, and therefore discarded.

Thats what AOL wants to do to the world.

Stephen R. Cassady
Spank! Youth Culture Online

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.SpankMag.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.SpankMag.com</a>
Youth Culture Defined By Youth
The longest running youth site on the net
Posted by canadaboy (14 comments )
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Mostly to cut back on spam and phishing...
This move, that so many people are seeing as a bad thing, can be a good thing. This gives legitimate 'for profit' companies a way to ensure that their legitimate email gets to their end users, while ensuring that 'phishing' type emails about their company get blocked.

Any company that uses a bonding service such as goodmail, are also going to register specific server IP addresses for their email. So that anyone else pretending to be the business will end up having their email blocked or modified, and the companies legitimate email will get through intact.

There are already bonded-sender programs on the Internet that ISPs are already using. They are setup differently in that there isn't a per-message fee, but they still exist. This simply takes things one step further, and helps ensure there is some cost-sharing related to the delivery of thousands to millions of emails. (Think of a company like ebay that sends a number of emails per item bid (one message to each current auto-bidder as each new bid comes in), resulting in hundreds of thousands of messages per day. Just that much in legitimate traffic has a cost on the server end for AOL and Yahoo (more servers needed to handle the higher traffic load). Getting some type of cost recovery on that seems more than fair, and the bonding ensures that that bogus ebay messages are blocked as non-legitimate.)

Even if eventually this fails, something like it is needed. Something where for a fee (I would recommend less than .05 cents per message, not 1 cent per message), legitimate companies can register their real server information in a database, and others can use it for enforcement. The fee helps to ensure that the heavy users are covering more of the costs, and the light users are covering less.

There is SPF/Sender-ID, but so many people are splitting camps on this, and many don't understand it, so it isn't gaining the traction it needs to really take off. (Some hosting companies are starting to auto-create SPF records for their customers, but make bad assumptions, resulting in the user's emails being blocked when they use their own ISP to send.) There is also Yahoo's competing Domain-Keys 'signed message' technology that gmail is also making use of, but it also is getting very slow adoption.

At least with this sender-bonding, both AOL and Yahoo have come to an agreement on a technology that can help at least cut down on the forgery of bonded companies. I'm not sure this is something everyone can make use of though, but perhaps it will help set a framework for the future.

What most people don't realize already is how much companies spend for anti-spam technologies. AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and Google probably spend the most on protecting their customers, as they build their own systems in-house, and thus have the larger research costs. Smaller companies (1000 users to 25000 users) usually end up having to purchase very expensive anti-spam hardware device, or opt for less-effective software solutions. These can range in price from $10,000 up to $100,000 for things that include the most advanced technologies. (It used to be a few years back that one company wanted a commitment for at least $100,000, since then they have been bought out, and things have changed.) On top of the device costs are the subscription costs for rapidly updated signatures, and other on-going services. So anti-spam isn't cheap.

Ultimately this effort of AOL and Yahoo is likely to fail as the consumer awareness parts weren't done first, or not done properly. Too much bad publicity got our first, and there are too many fear-mongers playing on things that simply don't make sense. Had this been laid out in layman's terms clearly and plainly at the very first, with all of the possible Q&#38;A items addressed up-front, this would have had a much better chance. Now this is all political without any rationalization on what is really being attempted, and everyone will see this as generally bad.

What people might get is what they don't want. If AOL and Yahoo drop out of this, they may just end up link-disabling ALL email, and image disabling ALL email, just to ensure their customers are getting pornographic emails that are based on embedded images, and phishing emails based on embedded URLs. They wouldn't go that far this year, but at some point (possibly two years out) the spammers are going to get bad enough with embedded image spam and phishing spam, that going back to the days of plain-text emails could become necessary if people don't take a stand to start protecting legitimate emails better now.

Even if people just rally around the SPF/Sender-ID or Yahoo Domain Keys technologies, we can start fighting spam better now, and help prevent an eventual meltdown of too much junk compared to non-junk reaching users.

I hope at least the people complaining so much about this at least take the time to study SPF, and setup the proper SPF settings for the domains they own, so that outsiders can be blocked from pretending to be someone they are not.
Posted by JDinKC (303 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Threats are not the ticket
You sound like a shill for Goodmail, AOL or Yahoo. A very nasty
one at that. Threatening to trash people's regular email if they
don't go along with paid email will result in an even greater revolt
against the three banditeers.

BTW, have you ever heard of the PARAGRAPH?
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
Good idea, bad implementation
I applaud the idea that mass marketers that want to guarentee delivery of their unsolicted email into my inbox should pay the internet equivalent of bulk rate postage. Part of the problem with unsolicted commercial email has been the extremely low cost per message for the sender.

Where I see a problem is in the proposed implementation. Today, delivery of unsolicted mail outside of cyberspace is controlled and policed by the US Postal Service, which has government oversight. The email equivalent should also have government oversight to insure fairness to all users and to make certain it is operated in the best interest of email recipients, not the senders or shareholders that profit from it use.

Frankly, I would like to see the US Postal service in charge of this service, as it would be a natural extension of their existing mission.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
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