Small Business Reading Room

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fee based bulk e-mail and nonprofits

What do Civic Action, the AFL-CIO, Gun Owners of America and the Electronic Frontier Foundation all have in common?

They don't want to become casualties in the war against spam.

The threat? A new program proposed by AOL to charge bulk e-mailers a fee to guarantee delivery of e-mail to its subscribers.

The fee, scheduled to take effect in 30 days, is little more than an "e-mail tax" say opponents of the plan. Paying for e-mail will thwart the growth of grassroots organizations and divide mass e-mailers into two groups: elites who can afford to communicate with a mass audience, and those who can't and are locked out, says Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"The big nonprofits are getting the attention here, but this isn't really just for them," Cohn said. "What about the little guys that are just starting and may not be reaching an audience who wants to hear what they have to say? These are the groups that will lose."

Indeed. But then again, what is the price of free speech these days in our country?

Fortunately for the consortium of nonprofit and public interest groups mentioned above, in an amazing display of PR damage control, AOL agrees to pay e-mail tab for nonprofits.

This time anyway.


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