Thursday, August 23, 2012

Will We Have to Start Paying to Send Email?

Waxing Internet nostalgia this morning - meaning, harkening all the way back to 2006 - as I just dug up a copy of this story about how companies would soon have to start buying "the equivalent of a postage stamp" if they want to send email.

How quaint is this...

America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.

The Internet companies say that this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges that plague users of their services. They also stand to earn millions of dollars a year from the system if it is widely adopted...

But critics of the plan say that the two companies risk alienating both their users and the companies that send e-mail. The system will apply not only to mass mailings but also to individual commercial messages like order confirmations from online stores and customized low-fare notices from airlines.

"AOL users will become dissatisfied when they don't receive the e-mail that they want, and when they complain to the senders, they'll be told, 'it's AOL's fault,' " said Richi Jennings, an analyst at Ferris Research, which specializes in e-mail.

As for companies that send e-mail, "some will pay, but others will object to being held to ransom," he said. "A big danger is that one of them will be big enough to encourage AOL users to use a different e-mail service."

Ha! How cute is that, really? Paying a penny for each email you want to send? A danger that users might switch to a free service? It's amazing to think that this was a serious enough issue that it was covered in the New York Times.

But just to add a little something more substantial, buried deep in the article is a small mention of this new thing "called Net Neutrality" which raises "the prospect of a multi-tiered Internet" where large corporations could pay significant sums of money in order to receive preferential treatment on their Internet communications. Net Neutrality is a serious and very much ongoing debate which persists today, and articles like this one illustrate its media coverage origins.

My question: Which is more outdated - the idea of paying an "electronic postage stamp" to send an email, or the idea of AOL being relevant?



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