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Charging for email

Yahoo and AOL plan to introduce a paid service that lets mass mailers skip their spam filters and go right to the users mailbox. While a lot of people are up in arms about this, I think we all know that something has to be done about junk mail. I think there are adjustments that will need to be made (AOL has already said that they'll waive the fee for non-profits, for example) and the pricing might need some creativity (a flat rate option could be helpful), but I think the basic concept is good.

Mass mailers certainly understand that they have to pay the post office for letter mail. In fact, it's more than just paying: you need a permit, and you need to pre-sort mail. That's understandable because obviously the post office incurs costs to deliver the mail. AOL and Yahoo and every one of us who run our own mail servers incur costs too: storage, cpu cycles, licensing of spam and av software, technical support salaries: it's real money, and it makes perfect sense that mass mailers should pay to help defray those costs.

I do think the proposed charges (1/4 to 1 cent per message) are probably too high. On the other hand, that's far, far less than the cost for post office mail and when you consider that it's estimated that 21% of mass email from legitimate sources gets bounced by spam filters, it's even more sensible to pay a fee to avoid the loss.

Remember, the fee is optional: those who can't afford it or don't want to pay it can just go on taking their chances. Legitimate companies with useful messages can help themselves and their intended recipients by paying the fee.

I would hope and assume that AOL and Yahoo would still put the final decision in the hands of the email recipient: that the payment of a fee doesn't prevent the user from still saying no. It would make sense to allow the users to block this mail, and it would also make sense for AOL/Yahoo to notify the sender of such blocking so that they can update their lists.

I'm fully in favor of paid email. I'd even like to see more of it, with all mail hubs charging a fee for large numbers of messages from the same source. Imagine if Comcast and Verizon required a fee anytime you sent more than 200 emails a day - that wouldn't bother you and I a bit, but it would sure impact the spammers, wouldn't it? It's way past time to do this, and I think it's reat that Yahoo and AOL have taken the first step.

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